Georgia Senate approves measure criminalizing assisted suicide

[JURIST] The Georgia Senate [official website] approved legislation on Tuesday that would make it a felony to assist in another person's suicide. HB 1114 [materials] was approved after the Georgia Supreme Court in early February struck down [JURIST report] a 1994 law that banned publicly advertising suicide assistance. Under the new law any person with knowledge of a possible suicide must take action: "Any person with actual knowledge that a person intends to commit suicide who knowingly and willfully assists such person in the commission of such person's suicide shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment." The weight of the sentence varies from 1-10 years imprisonment. The bill protects those who are trying to ease the pain of the patient but do not intend to take the patient's life. The legislation also does not apply to those acting within the parameters of a will or seeking to terminate care for a patient who is unresponsive. The bill passed through the House earlier this month by a vote of 124-45, but it must now go back to the House for approval on several amendments.

In 2009 a sharply divided Montana Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that physician-assisted suicide is not banned by state law, making Montana the third state to allow the practice after Oregon and Washington. The court upheld in part and reversed in part a lower court ruling, agreeing with the finding that physician-assisted suicide is not illegal under state law, but giving no opinion on the greater constitutional question addressed by the lower court. Instead, it found in a 4-3 decision that physician-assisted suicide was not rendered illegal under state statute or by public policy concerns. In November 2008, voters in Washington state approved a ballot initiative [JURIST report] that allows terminally ill, legally competent adults to obtain lethal prescriptions without exposing themselves, their physicians or others to criminal penalties. The Washington measure was modeled on neighboring Oregon's Death with Dignity Act [official materials], enacted in 1997 and upheld by the US Supreme Court [JURIST report] in 2006.

 

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