This Article examines several aspects of the medical and legal debate on physician-assisted suicide. Part I describes the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, the only existing American law legalizing physician assisted suicide. Understanding the provisions of the DWDA provides a concrete, practical framework for discussing the medical and constitutional issues central to the PAS debate. Part II considers the wisdom of the DWDA in light of current medical knowledge and practice. The law allows a patient, with only a few months to live, a human end to intolerable suffering under controlled conditions. It is carefully crafted to ensure that patient and physician deliberate about the decision over at least a fifteen-day period, thereby discouraging impulsive behavior. It renders unnecessary the occasional practice of using high doses of sedating medications putatively for palliative purposes, but with the covert, inadequately discussed purpose of hastening the patient's death. However, the DWDA does not sufficiently account for the complex motivations of patients requesting suicide, In addition, the statute does not fully consider the subtleties involved in differentiating clinical depression from expected sadness in terminally ill patients. In order to address these problems, the Oregon legislature should amend the DWDA to mandate that a psychiatrist must evaluate every patient who requests to end his life. Part III of this Article examines whether the DWDA passes constitutional muster in light of the Supreme Court's recent landmark decisions in Glucksberg and Vacco. Consistent with its prevailing federalism jurisprudence, the Court refrained from finding new fundamental liberty interests in order to allow the state legislatures to determine policy on assisted suicide. The same approach in a due process or equal protection challenge to the DWDA logically would lead the Court to conclude that the law does not infringe upon fundamental liberty interests. The appropriate test of DWDA's constitutionality therefore, would be the lenient "rational basis" test. DWDA is rationally related to legitimate state interests. Under this test, the Court likely would uphold the Oregon statute. To complete the analysis, Part III also considers how the DWDA would fare in the less likely event that the Court finds that a challenge to the law implicates fundamental liberty interests. In this case, the statute would be scrutinized more searchingly, and its survival would be less certain.
Steven B. Datlof, Beyond Washington v. Glucksberg: Oregon's Death with Dignity Act Analyzed from Medical and Constitutional Perspectives, 14 J.L. & Health 23 (1999-2000)