Looking Back at Withdrawal of Life-Support Law and Policy to See What Lies Ahead for Medical Aid-in-Dying.Yale J Biol Med. 2019 12; 92(4):781-791.YJ
Current efforts to legalize medical aid-in-dying in this country follow a half century of remarkable legal developments regarding when, how, and on whose terms to intervene to prevent death and extend life in critically and terminally ill patients. The starting point-which I call the first stage along the path-was the creation in the two decades following World War II of powerful means of keeping very ill, and typically unconscious, patients alive. The second stage began in the late 1960s as physicians (and then others in society) began to grapple with the consequences of maintaining such patients on life-support indefinitely. Over five decades, judicial decisions, followed by implementing statutes and regulations, transformed legal rights and medical practices. Are the current developments-which center on legalizing medical aid-in-dying-a third stage along the same path, or do the striking differences between the issues raised about life-sustaining treatment and euthanasia suggest that they are separate? What lessons might those proceeding along the aid-in-dying path take from the development of the other path, and if the two paths are still distinct today, might they merge in the future?