Using the First Amendment to the Constitution as its rationale, the Georgia State Supreme Court yesterday struck down the state’s law which prohibits assisted suicide. This court decision leaves older residents of Georgia and those with disabilities without protection from predators who will now be able to freely advertise how they can help assist the deaths of these vulnerable people.
The Georgia law, enacted in 1994, classifies as a felon anyone who “publicly advertises, offers or holds himself out as offering that he or she will intentionally and actively assist another person in the commission of suicide and commits any overt act to further that purpose.” According to Burke Balch of the National Right to Life Committee, “This ruling essentially says if you want to advertise helping people jump off a cliff, you can hang out your shingle in Georgia.”
A challenge to the Georgia law was initiated by a case involving four members of the Final Exit Network who were charged with assisting the death of a 58-year-old cancer patient. The four will not face a criminal trial as a result of the high court ruling. Currently doctor-prescribed death is only legal in Oregon and Washington. A court decision in Montana has resulted in a lack of clarity as to what is legal in that state. The Patients Rights Council reports that since 1994, there were 122 legislative proposals introduced in 25 states, including Wisconsin, to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide which were defeated, tabled, withdrawn by sponsors, or languished in committee without action. Ballot measures to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide were defeated in California, Maine and Michigan.
In Georgia, countless patients are now at risk of elder abuse. Along with our parent organization, the National Right to Life Committee, Wisconsin Right to Life calls on the Georgia legislature to remedy this danger by swiftly enacting a new law to prohibit doctor-prescribed suicide.