Right to Die: 'Right to Die' Debate Returns to States

A unanimous Supreme Court, upholding bans on doctor-assisted suicide in thestates of New York and Washington, has sent the "right to die" battle backto the state level.

In a June 26 ruling, the justices found that the Constitution does not givepeople a right to end their lives with the aid of a physician, but suggestedthat states might be free to enact measures that allow it in limitedcircumstances.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who wrote the main decision, said the conceptof assisted suicide conflicts with "our nation's history, legal traditions,and practices."

The Christian Medical and Dental Society hailed the decision, along withthe American Medical Association, but expressed concern that the concurringopinions of five justices keeps the constitutional debate alive. JusticeJohn Paul Stevens said that there is "room for further debate about the limitsthat the Constitution places on the power of the states to punish"doctor-assisted suicide.

STATES TAKE THE INITIATIVE: The high court decision "left the doorwide open for us to continue with our legislative program," says Derek Humphry,founder and former president of the Hemlock Society, a "right to die" advocacygroup. "It has always been the policy of the right-to-die movement to gofrom state to state and try to get laws passed which set up physician-assistedsuicide with safeguards, in a careful, regulated manner."

The state battle begins in Oregon, where Humphry heads the Euthanasia Researchand Guidance Organization. It is one of several groups backing Oregon Rightto Die's campaign for a November ballot initiative called the "Death withDignity Act," or Measure 16.

In 1994, Oregon voters approved the measure by 51 to 49 percent, but courtchallenges, led by Oregon Right to Life, ...

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