March 28, 2017

Cleveland Marshall hosts panel on types of assisted suicide laws

Physician-assisted suicide laws in the United States and elsewhere drew a capacity crowd to the Cleveland Marshall College of Law’s Moot Courtroom for a panel discussion on March 7.

Panelists assembled by The Center for Health Law and Policy at the law school gave an overview entitled, “Deliberate Departure: A Candid Conversation About Physician-Assisted Suicide”, discussing and addressing the failed attempt to legalize physician-assisted suicide in the United Kingdom and address the concerns that physicians and the American Medical Association have expressed about this particular issue.

Professor Browne Lewis, a Leon and Gloria Professor of Law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and director of the Center for Health Law & Policy, headed the presentation and introduced the discussion and panel.

The panel also included Dr. Michael Glasenapp, M.D., a board-certified emergency medicine physician affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic, and Dr. Amanda Ward, who teaches medical law courses at Glasgow University in Glasgow, Scotland. She has been directly involved in academic and political debates about physician-assisted suicide in Scotland.

“Bioethics is a required course in our health Law curriculum,” Browne said. “In that course, students are exposed to issues like physician-assisted suicide. It is important for students to learn about this issue because they may represent doctors and other health care providers who need advice on this issue. In addition, some of our students may end up in positions where they are making health law policy.”

The Canadian Medical Association defines three separate medical terms associated with physician-assisted suicide.

Aid in dying, the first term, is a generic term that encompasses both euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

Euthanasia, the second term, includes knowingly and intentionally performing an act that explicitly intends to end another person’s life because of an incurable illness, knowing about the person’s condition, committing the act with the primary intention of ending the life of that person with empathy and compassion without personal gain.

The final term, assistance in suicide, intends providing a person with the knowledge and means required to commit suicide, including counseling about drug doses, and prescribing or supplying the drugs. These practices are often regarded similarly but there is a practical and legal distinction.

In the UK, the law considers assisted suicide as murder with life imprisonment as a repercussion.

In the United States, several states have laws in place to protect patients and someone who assists them if they commit suicide. But in states such as Arkansas, Georgia and North Dakota, the act or the supplying of prescription is considered statutorily illegal.

“Advances in medical treatment are permitting people, even terminally ill persons, to live longer,” Browne said. “Unfortunately, some of these people are in chronic pain. It is important that people are given the opportunity to dies on their own terms. Thus, it is important that they know about all of their options, including physician-assisted suicide. I hope that the people who attended this program start thinking about planning for incapacity and for dying.”

The program concluded with a reception sponsored by the Scottish American Society, including music by Scottish Plaid, a bagpipe band.


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