Physician Assisted Suicide Denied in TN

This week, a Tennessee court refused to allow three doctors to write their client a prescription intended to assist with his suicide.  John Jay Hooker, who ran for governor of Tennessee in 1970 and 1998, has terminal cancer and wants to determine, on his own terms, when and how he will die.  Although 3 doctors are willing to help Mr. Hooker accomplish his goal, Nashville Judge Carol McCoy has warned them that doing so will amount to criminal conduct.  Mr. Hooker plans to appeal her decision.  


Proponents of "Death with Dignity" claim that it is an individual's fundamental right to decide how to die when they are facing a terminal illness and that they should not be forced to suffer immeasurable pain and circumstances.  On one hand, Tennessee allows individuals in that situation to take pain medicine and other treatment to relieve the pain and symptoms of their illness.  On the other hand, some of those particular drugs may leave an individual in an unconscious or semi-unconscious state which some argue isn't really living at all.  Opponents of the practice are concerned that such a law will encourage suicide among the mentally ill and those suffering from severe depression.  They are also concerned about doctors promoting death with dignity to patients who may have never considered it otherwise.


There are presently only three states that allow physician assisted suicide - Oregon (as of 1997), Washington (as of 2009), and Vermont (as of 2013).  Montana's Supreme Court has determined that physician assisted suicide is not illegal under their laws and their legislature is currently determining whether to officially adopt a law permitting it - which means it's legal until a law is enacted stating otherwise. 


Following the highly publicized physician assisted suicide of Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old with terminal brain cancer who relocated to Oregon so that she could end her own life with the assistance of her doctors in November 2014, death with dignity bills have been introduced in 11 states1 and are currently awaiting approval or denial by their legislature.  Since Ms. Maynard's death, another 12 states,2 including Tennessee, have already considered adopting a death with dignity law and have either declined to adopt the bill as law or have tabled it to be addressed at a later time.  The bill in Tennessee has been tabled and will most likely reappear before the legislature during the 2016 session.



1 Alaska, California, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Kansas.  New Jersey is also presently considering the bill but it was introduced several months before Ms. Maynard's story was publicized. 


2 Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Tennessee, Iowa, Missouri, Delaware, Maryland, Wyoming, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine.