Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Thoughts on Final Exit Case

Before too much is made of the Georgia Supreme Court's ruling freeing four Final Exit volunteers from criminal charges for assisting a suicide, let's look at the facts:

1) This was a unanimous 7-0 decision of the court. No small feat these days. The judges made it clear that their ruling was about free speech protected by both the US and Georgia Constitutions.

2) The court stated overtly in its ruling that Georgia legislators could have banned assisted suicide outright in its 1994 law, but didn't - preferring instead to banning only the "advertisement" of assisting in a suicide. That left the question of legality about assisted suicide unaddressed. The court went so far as to say that a total ban on assisted suicide could be considered to be constitutional.

3) The Court ruling further argues that Georgia's law made criminal only the "public" advertising of assisted suicides accompanied by an act to do so - thus the objection by the court to the free speech issues.

4) State lawmakers adopted the law in 1994 to prevent Dr. Kevorkian types from advertising their services, an understandable preventive step, but incomplete, especially in light of other recent state laws that have made physician aid in dying legal.

5) Finally, Dr. Lawrence Egbert and others in Final Exit Network are not Jack Kevorkian types. The group does not advertise their efforts to take the lives of patients, but only assist the patient in taking her own. Though that may seem like splitting hairs to some, when there is no state law on the books that bans assisted suicide, advertising or publicly advocating for a troublesome and morally objectionable activity does not a criminal make.

Rather than alleging claims about judicial activism by its highest court, Georgia legislators simply need to set about the work of adopting legislation to ban assisted suicide all together, if that is what they truly want. That may not be a bad thing to do, but it may be easier said than done.

John G. Carney
Center for Practical Bioethics

Link: Court strikes down Georgia's assisted-suicide law, Ashley Hayes, CNN, February 6, 2012



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