Although the right to die movement is sometimes characterized under the heading of euthanasia, advocates are quick to point out that physician-assisted suicide is not about a doctor's decision to end the suffering of a terminally ill person, but rather about the decision by a terminally ill person to end their own under medical supervision. It is also worth noting that the right to die movement has historically focused not on active physician-assisted suicide, but on the patient's option to refuse treatment by way of advance directives.
1868Advocates for the right to die find the constitutional basis of their argument in the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause, which reads:
No State shall ... deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law ...The wording of the due process clause suggests that people are responsible for their own lives, and could therefore have a legal right to end them if they choose to do so. But this issue was likely not on the minds of constitutional framers, as physician-assisted suicide was not a public policy issue at the time, and conventional suicide leaves no defendant to indict.
1969The first major success of the right-to-die movement was the living will, proposed by attorney Luis Kutner in 1969. As Kutner wrote:
[W]hen a patient is unconscious or is not in a position to give his consent, the law assumes a constructive consent to such treatment as will save his life. The physician's authority to proceed with treatment is based upon the presumption that the patient would have consented to treatment necessary to protect his life of health if he had been able to do so. But the problem arises as to how far such constructive consent should extend ...The living will was not Kutner's only contribution to international human rights; he is better known in some circles as one of the original co-founders of Amnesty International.
Where a patient undergoes surgery or other radical treatment, the surgeon or the hospital will require him to sign a legal statement indicating his consent to the treatment. The patient, however, while still retaining his mental faculties and the ability to convey his thoughts, could append to such a document a clause providing that, if his condition becomes incurable and his bodily state vegetative with no possibility that he could recover his complete faculties, his consent to further treatment would be terminated. The physician would then be precluded from prescribing further surgery, radiation, drugs or the running of resuscitating and other machinery, and the patient would be permitted to die by virtue of the physician's inaction ...
The patient may not have had, however, the opportunity to give his consent at any point before treatment. He may have become the victim of a sudden accident or a stroke or coronary. Therefore, the suggested solution is that the individual, while fully in control of his faculties and his ability to express himself, indicate to what extent he would consent to treatment. The document indicating such consent may be referred to as "a livizg will," "a declaration determining the termination of life," "testament permitting death," "declaration for bodily autonomy," "declaration for ending treatment," "body trust," or other similar reference.