In A. Yeung & H. Li (eds.), New Essays in Applied Ethics: Animal Rights, Personhood, and the Ethics of Killing. Palgrave McMillan (2007)

Kai-Yee Wong
Chinese University of Hong Kong
In 1996, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal of United States ruled that a Washington law banning physician-assisted suicide was unconstitutional. In the same year, the 2nd Circuit found a similar law in New York unconstitutional. One year later, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed both rulings, saying that there was no constitutional right to assisted suicide. However, the Court also made plain that they did not reject such a right in principle and that “citizens are free to press for permissive reforms… through legislation or referendums” (Dworkin 1997: 6). (The unanimity of the vote was therefore, as Dworkin notes (1997:1), deceptive.) Oregon chose to do so and legalized physician-assisted suicide in 1997. Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act” is one of the latest expressions of a medical and legal consensus that has gradually emerged in U.S. and some European countries over the past two decades, that is, the consensus that recognizes the right of terminally ill and competent patients to receive assistance with suicide.
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