Mead, Arthur [faculty advisor, Department of Economics]
assisted suicide; end of life issues; public policy; terminally ill; politics; economics
The issue of when life begins has inspired heated debate in this country for nearly half of a century. The importance of this issue cannot be overstated; it has played a pivotal role in elections of public officials and in confirmation hearings of federal judges and justices and has dominated legal, political, economic, religious and ethical discussions. While the issue is far from resolved, it will be joined by another contentious issue in the near future. With our society rapidly getting older, and with the rapidly rising cost of health care, including the extremely high cost of end-of-life care, Americans will soon be confronted with the difficult question of when to die. In fact, the issue of when life ends has the potential to be even more controversial than the abortion issue. Some terminally-ill patients feel that the option of physician assisted suicide (PAS) should be available to them. Two states, Oregon and Washington, have legislation allowing terminally-ill, mentally competent adults to request the medical means to end their lives. Rhode Island currently has legislation making it illegal for anyone to assist another person in the act of committing suicide.
This paper will thoroughly examine all sides of the issue from a variety of disciplines. Relying on both extensive research and several interviews with members of the academic and legal communities, this paper will closely look at PAS in both theory and practice. The implementation of the Oregon and Washington laws will be discussed in detail. It will also discuss the potential implications of physician assisted suicide legislation on both a national and a state level in an effort to determine the appropriate response to end of life concerns in the state of Rhode Island.