[JURIST] A group of patients and doctors on Wednesday filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] in a New York court requesting a declaration that physician-assisted suicide is not illegal under New York state law. Though the state does have a law prohibiting assisted suicide, plaintiffs argue [press release] that it was not intended to apply to the doctors of terminally ill patients who are mentally competent to make such a decision. The law has previously been interpreted [NYT report] to allow a doctor who provides a fatal dose of medication to a terminally ill patient to be prosecuted for manslaughter under the statute as someone who “intentionally causes or aids another person to commit suicide.” The plaintiffs contend that this interpretation of the law violates the equal protection clause of the US Constitution, as doctors have the ability to aid in the death of some dying patients (through the removal of life support) but not for others.
The right to die [JURIST news archive] has been a contentious issue in the US and around the world. Earlier this month two Democratic state senators in California introduced a bill to legalize assisted suicide, modelling the bill after the physician-assisted suicide law enacted by voters in Oregon in 1994. In 2006 the US Supreme Court upheld Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act [JURIST report], making Oregon the only US state that allowed assisted suicide at that time. Vermont, Washington and Montana also allow assisted suicide. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in 2013 that a state law criminalizing speech [JURIST report] that “advises” and “encourages” another’s suicide is unconstitutional.