Court Skeptical About Assisted Suicide

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Supreme Court Justices seemed deeply doubtful about a proposal allowing assisted suicide as the first day of arguments began. "You're asking us in effect to declare unconstitutional the laws (banning assisted suicide) in 50 states," Justice Anthony Kennedy told one lawyer. And Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted that if they declare it a right and allow states to set regulations, "It would result in a flow of cases through the court system for Heaven knows how long." Opponents of assisted suicide paint a scenario in which terminally-ill people are pressured to end their lives, even if they are not in serious pain; those in the right-to-die camp argue that such patients have only the choice of how to die, whether it be a painful death or a dignified one. Most Americans seem to agree with this argument: a recent Gallup poll reported that 75 percent of those surveyed favor doctor-assisted suicide. In one of two federal appellate court rulings to be determined by the justices, Judge Stephen Reinhardt found that Washington state's ban on assisted suicide violated the constitutional guarantee of personal liberty. "A competent, terminally-ill adult" should not be forced to endure "a childlike state of helplessness, diapered, sedated, incompetent," he wrote. But court watchers find it hard to believe the Justices agreed to wrestle with the issue simply to concur with Reinhardt. Regardless of the outcome, nothing will likely change the minds of doctors, a majority of whom oppose it. They, after all, have pledged to follow Hippocrates, who nearly 2,400 years ago said: "I will not give poison to anyone, though asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a plan."