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Death Hastened Despite No Terminal Illness

Posted Jul 06 2013 1:48pm
In a recent European Court of Human Rights case , Alda Gross claimed a right to aid-in-dying.  While Ms. Gross has no known pathological condition or clinical illness, she contended that she has the right to assisted suicide because she’s a frail elderly woman and has no desire to continue life. 

The Gross case highlights an pervasive legal limitation that now seems disjointed with medical reality.  Most jurisdictions where aid-in-dying is expressly authorized (e.g. OR, VT, WA) require that a patient have a terminal illness to be eligible for the service.  Similarly, many jurisdictions require the patient to have a terminal illness before a surrogate can legally decide to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment.  

But like Ms. Gross, most of us do not die from a terminal illness.  We die from organ failure or from frailty.  It is time to update and expand the legally recognized triggering conditions for making end-of-life treatment decisions to hasten death.

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