Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Assisted Suicide for Alzheimer’s Patients Raises Incredibly Difficult Issues

HippocraticPhysician assisted suicide was thrust into the public eye when a 104-year-old Australian scientist David Goodall decided to end his life medically. He did not have any serious or terminal illnesses. He just believed he was old, and did not want to have his abilities continue to diminish and end up in a nursing home. Because assisted suicide is not legal in Australia, he had to travel to Switzerland. He adamantly told the press that he "wanted to die."

Seven jurisdictions in the United States provide for physician assisted suicide: California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana (with a court decision), Vermont and Washington state. Put there are built in stipulations and limits on the procedure, including: a condition that is terminal, meaning the patient has six months or less to live, restrictions on what type of doctor can write the prescription, waiting periods, different levels and forms of consent by the patient, and a showing that the patient is mentally competent.

Patients with Alzheimer's have issues with many of the restrictions. The disease can take years to kill someone, so when a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer's it is not considered a terminal illness. But the disease breaks down a person's identity to the point where they are a shadow of who they were, and many people want to end their lives before the deterioration is a burden. But by the time the erosion and disease is considered terminal, Alzheimer's patients will have lost their mental capacity to reason and thus will be barred from requesting assisted suicide. They will no longer be of sound mind.

An advanced directive may be a solution to this problem, stating the individual’s wishes before the person is stricken with Alzheimer’s disease. This would similar to a DNR or refusal of aggressive medical interventions. Also known as a living will, it is a  written statement of a person’s desires regarding medical treatment in cases where he or she is unable to give informed consent.

See Josh Bloom & Henry I. Miller, Assisted Suicide for Alzheimer’s Patients Raises Incredibly Difficult Issues, Fox News, December 2, 2018.


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