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LETTING GO by Melvin I. Urofsky


Death, Dying, and the Law

by Melvin I. Urofsky

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-684-19344-2
Publisher: Scribner

A thoughtful appraisal of how the courts have responded to right-to-die issues. Although the Supreme Court has held that there's a constitutionally protected ``right to die,'' this right is not absolute, for the state has an interest in protecting and preserving life. Urofsky (History & Law/Virginia Commonwealth University; A Conflict of Rights, 1991, etc.) examines the balancing that takes place between these often conflicting interests. He looks at the now-familiar Karen Ann Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan, and Baby Jane Doe cases, as well as lesser-known but equally difficult ones. Although he focuses on how the law has tackled the right to die, Urofsky also glances at theology's attempts to deal with the problem, and he summarizes the views of Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and various non-Western religions on suicide and euthanasia. He looks at how the law has regarded mercy killings; the rights of the incompetent (e.g., those in comas and handicapped newborns); and even the rights of convicts on death row to refuse to appeal their sentences. Advance directives (``living wills'') and proxy statements giving durable power of attorney to another to make health-care decisions are also explored (sample forms are included), along with some caveats about meeting individual state requirements. Urofsky makes clear why doctors and hospitals, anxious to protect themselves from liability, often insist on procedural safeguards that obstruct the patient's personal autonomy. To those who argue that the courts are not the proper place for making the tough decisions about life and death, Urofsky asks where else a society based on the rule of law can turn. A cool appraisal of the legal standing of the right to die, warmed by human stories that linger in the memory.