Post about "Law and Issues"

The Law and Assisted Suicide

Assisted suicide has been a topic of contentious debate across the United States for years. At the heart of the issue is a complex web of religious, medical, and ethical issues surrounding the value of life and individual freedom. Because many people have such strong feelings about these issues, it is difficult for people on different sides of the debate to see each others’ perspectives or reach a compromise.

In the 1990′s, some highly publicized trials brought the legal side of this debate to a head. Several states, including Rhode Island, passed laws that specifically banned anyone from helping another person kill himself or herself. Prior to this, the act had been penalized under general homicide laws rather than any particular acts.

Rhode Island’s law about this difficult topic was passed in 1996. It is passed on a belief that anyone who wants to die is suffering from a mental issue that likely requires treatment. Indulging this person’s wish is therefore considered exploitation rather than aid.

Reflecting the law’s basis on specific court cases, rather than the general topic, the law is written to only apply to licensed healthcare workers. Anyone else who participates in another person’s suicide will likely be tried under general homicide laws. Euthanasia, which is not necessarily performed with the victim’s consent, is also covered by pre-existing laws against murder.

A healthcare worker can be convicted under this law of he or she provides a patient with the means to end his or her life, or participates in the physical act itself. It does not apply to palliative care that may increase the risk of death if the patient’s dying is not the intended outcome. It also does not apply to decisions to end life-saving measures in specific circumstances, such as a patient in a vegetative state who will not recover.

If a person is convicted of assisting in a suicide attempt, he or she faces harsh penalties. He or she may spend up to 10 years in prison and/or be fined up to $10,000. There can also be civil penalties instead of, or in addition to, criminal charges. In fact, Rhode Island encourages surviving victims of this crime, or the families of deceased victims, to pursue civil penalties instead of criminal ones. This is intended to reduce the taxpayers’ cost of prosecuting this crime.

Other states have taken the opposite approach from Rhode Island, passing laws that allow aided suicide in some cases. There is simply no easy answer to this question.

For more information about the laws surrounding this matter, contact Rhode Island defense lawyer James Powderly.