A Connecticut trial court has rejected an attempt by suicide advocates to legalize physician-assisted suicide, dismissing a petition brought two physicians.
The plaintiff-physicians had argued that the state’s manslaughter statute, which explicitly criminalizes aiding another person in suicide, should not apply to physicians who provide “aid in dying” by prescribing lethal drugs to patients.
This argument represents a new tactic by suicide advocates: attempting to redefine “assisted suicide” by creating new legal terminology and tricking the courts and the American public into legalizing physician-assisted suicide under a different name. However, the trial court saw through their ploy, reaching several important conclusions, including:
First, the court concluded that “the commentary and legislative history of the statute make it quite clear that assisting a suicide, even for humanitarian purposes, is a crime.” The legislature intended the statute to apply to physicians who assist suicide, and intended the term “suicide” to include “self-killing by those who are suffering from unbearable terminal illness.” The court noted that this conclusion is bolstered by the multiple failed attempts of suicide advocates to have the legislature amend the statute to allow physician-assisted suicide.
Because the statute and its meaning are so clear, the court ruled that there is no “controversy”—in other words, suicide advocates have no case.
Second, the court concluded that changing the statute to allow physician-assisted suicide is properly within the purview of the legislature. The court noted that there are significant medical, legal, and ethical considerations that must be considered by a legislature, including:
- Whether physician-assisted suicide threatens the most vulnerable in society;
- Whether physician-assisted suicide shifts the focus of physicians and insurers away from vitally important tasks such as identifying and treating depression and providing end-of-life pain control and palliative care;
- Whether physician-assisted suicide undermines the physician-patient relationship and the integrity of the medical profession; and
- Whether physician-assisted suicide opens the door to the possibility of involuntary euthanasia, as has occurred in the Netherlands.
The court also found that it is the legislature that is the most appropriate body to debate these important questions and that a preemptive declaration by the court would improperly deprive the legislature of its rightful opportunity and obligation to weigh these issues.
Third, the court ruled that nothing in the text of the statute and the common usage of the word “suicide” support the suicide advocates’ claim that “aid in dying” (which advocates define as “the choice of a mentally competent terminally ill individual for a peaceful death [by taking a prescription medication]”) is not a “suicide.”
These conclusions are significant, not only for Connecticut, but also for the majority of states that currently criminalize or prohibit physician-assisted suicide. The trial court in Connecticut has set a powerful precedent that “aid in dying”—as defined and advocated by suicide proponents—is, in fact, “suicide” (as the law and the American public understand the term) and that the proper place to decide such issues is in the legislature.
An appeal by suicide advocates is expected.