The right to die: the history of the law to allow sufferers to end their lives

Across the United States and a number of other countries, euthanasia has been a topic of debate right through 1800s and has given rise to varied arguments.

The first anti-euthanasia was passed in the United States in 1828, in the state of New York. Other states, thereafter, followed suit.

In 20th century, Ezekiel Emmanual stated that availability of anesthesia has bought in a new era of euthanasia. He was a bioethicist at American National Institute of Health (NIH).

A euthanasia society was set up in the United States in 1938 with the intention of lobbying for assisted suicide.

Physician assisted suicide was legalized in Switzerland in 1937. This was while the doctor had nothing to gain from the patient’s death.

In 1960s, the right to die approach towards euthanasia found advocacy.

In the United States, formal ethics committees are now a part of hospitals and nursing homes. Living wills and advance health directives are similarly commonplace across the world. In 1977, they were legalized in California, United States. Other states followed suit soon thereafter.

A living will allows a person defines his desire for access to medical care. It is used in case they are unable to express their wishes at a later point of time.

Non-active Euthanasia was approved in 1990 by the Supreme Court.

Death with Dignity Act was approved by voters in Oregon in 1994. It allowed physicians to assist terminal patients, if they were not expected to survive for over 6 months.

Similar laws were adapted by U.S Supreme Court in 1997. Non active euthanasia was legalized by Texas in 1999.

Terri Schiavo case is notable in this regard, and built up public opinion in Florida and across the United States. Schiavo had a cardiac arrest in 1990. She stayed in a vegetative state for 15 years. Then her husband’s request to let her pass was approved.

A number of court hearings, petitions, motions, appeals and decisions were involved with the case while it lasted. U.S Congress, Florida legislation and President Bush, all played a role.

In 2008, Death with Dignity Act was chosen by 57.91% voters in Washington DC. It became a law in 2009.

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