Euthanasia: Whose Right to Die is It?

Monday, April 13, 2009
Stern Center, Great Room – 7:00 p.m.
Euthanasia Poster

“Continuing the Conversation” will be held
immediately following the presentation, Stern 102.

Dr. Greg Lewis, Carlisle physician
Carol Poenisch, daughter Dr. Kevorkian’s 19th patient
Linda Smith, hospice nurse
Jim Hoefler, Dickinson professor of political science and policy studies

A panel discussion reflecting diverse perspectives, viewpoints, and experiences regarding physician-assisted suicide.

This program was created by the Clarke Forum Student Board.

Topical Background
In the 1990 case of Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health, the Supreme Court addressed the question of whether American citizens have a constitutional “right to die.” The Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that “the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no State shall ‘deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.’ The principle that a competent person has a constitutionally protected liberty interest in refusing unwanted medical treatment may be inferred from our prior decisions.” “Accordingly, the liberty guaranteed by the Due Process Clause must protect, if it protects anything, an individual’s deeply personal decision to reject medical treatment, including the artificial delivery of food and water.”

Seven years later, in the cases of Washington v. Glucksberg and Quill v. Vacco, the Supreme Court considered the issue of physician-assisted suicide for a terminally ill individual. In both cases the Court ruled that a state could prohibit physician-assisted suicide. However, the Court also ruled that nothing in the Constitution prevented states from allowing physician-assisted suicide. Oregon and Washington have both enacted statutes allowing physician-assisted suicide. Furthermore, the Court ruled that “a patient who is suffering from terminal illness and who is experiencing great pain has no legal barriers to obtaining medication, from qualified physicians, to alleviate that suffering, even to the point of causing unconsciousness and hastening death.”

It is important to note the distinction between physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. Physician-assisted suicide is the practice of a patient actively causing his or her death while the physician only provides the means. Euthanasia, however, involves the physician providing the means and actively causing the death of the terminally ill patient.

About the Panelists
Greg Lewis, M.D.
Dr. Lewis is currently a gastroenterologist with his own practice in Carlisle, the Carlisle Digestive Disease Associates, Ltd. In the past he has served as an adjunct professor of biomedical ethics at Dickinson College. Dr. Lewis served for two decades as the chair of the Carlisle Regional Medical Center’s biomedical ethics committee. In addition to his medical credentials, he also recently earned a Master’s degree in philosophy.

Carol Poenisch
Ms. Poenisch’s mother, Merian Frederick, was Jack Kevorkian’s 19th physician-assisted suicide patient. Shortly thereafter, Michigan charged Dr. Kevorkian with murder for her death. In 1998, soon after the trial that acquitted Dr. Kevorkian for her death, Ms. Poenisch and two physicians formed Merian’s Friends, an organization dedicated to changing law through an initiative to legalize physician aid in dying in Michigan. Currently, she is assisting with the production of a documentary on the subject, “Last Rights: Facing End-of-Life Choices.”

Linda Smith
Ms. Smith served as Hospice director for Comfort Care Hospice from 1997-2001. Prior to that, she served as Hospice coordinator at Carlisle Hospital from 1982-1997. Her career has consisted of almost forty years in the medical field as a registered nurse with a concentration on end-of-life issues.

Jim Hoefler, Ph.D.
Professor Hoefler is a professor of political science and policy management at Dickinson College. His current research focuses on end-of-life decision making and the right to die. Professor Hoefler has written two books on the subject of death and managing death and is currently studying palliative sedation as an end-of-life option.