Washington International Law Journal


This paper reviews social and legal issues in the current euthanasia debate. Focusing on Australia and the United States, the author argues that the legalization of physician-assisted suicide ("PAS") and/or active voluntary euthanasia ("AVE") is inevitable within the short to medium term, given recent developments which have undermined the sanctity of life ethic. Legal factors supporting this assessment include the changing definition of death, the growth of a legallyrecognized right to self-determination extending to the withdrawal of life-support, and the recognition by some courts that life support may be withdrawn without consent because life is considered to be futile. The law, in turn, reflects broader changes in prevailing social philosophies that have been greatly influenced by rising individualism, the technological revolution in medicine and the promotion of debate through television and other media. Public opinion polls, the fragmentation of medical opinion over PAS/AVE and the declining influence of churches are also creating the conditions under which legalization would be a viable social policy. This paper reviews the emerging jurisprudence establishing a fight to die in Australia, the United States and the Netherlands. In view of the likelihood of PAS/AVE reform, the author argues that it is vital to articulate a stable philosophical basis for PAS/AVE which will provide a principled basis for any further incremental derogation from the sanctity of life ethic.

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