Ancient Greece & Rome (400 - 100 B.C.)
- Hippocratic Oath created for medical physicians. Contained the phrase “I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel”.
Despite the oath, widespread support existed for “voluntary death as opposed to prolonged agony”. As a result, physician assisted infanticide, euthanasia, and suicide were fairly common.
Middle Ages (1- 1550 A.D.)
- The dawn of Christianity resulted in immediate changes in medical ethics, including the forbidding of euthanasia/suicide.
- Anti-suicide that laws enacted in many European cities, ordering the desecration of the corpses of suicide victims (i.e. corpses dragged through the streets or nailed to a barrel and left to drift downriver).
Renaissance and Reformation (1550-1700)
- Discussion of euthanasia not possible in Christian Europe until this time. Secularization leads to questioning of the church’s teachings, including euthanasia and suicide.
- In Prussia, legislation enacted for lighter sentencing of persons assisting the terminally ill with suicide.
- New York is the first American state to pass statue prohibiting assisted suicide.
- Most American states(California, Dakota, ect.) follow New York's example & draft legislation which prohibit in aiding a suicide.
- A bill to legalize euthanasia proposed in Ohio but defeated by a vote of 79 to 23.
- Anna Bollinger births badly deformed child in Chicago. Dr. Harry Haiselden diagnoses newborn with “a litany of physical defects” & that without surgery the child will die shortly.
Haiselden advised against surgery, Bollingers agree & child dies shortly after a press conference is held announcing the decision.
Milestone Case - Haiselden’s professional conduct influenced other Americans to speak out in favor of euthanasia for badly deformed infants.
- Dr. Alfred Hoche (professor of psychiatry) & Karl Binding (law professor) published the book Permitting the Destruction of Life not Worthy of Life. Argued that patients requesting “death assistant” should be able to receive it from their physician.
- The Euthanasia Society of England was formed to promote euthanasia.
- British House of Lords debate & reject bill proposing legalization of euthanasia.
- U.S. Senator John Comstock introduces the Voluntary Euthanasia Act, calling for legalization of euthanasia. Act is never voted on, but represents increasing interest in euthanasia legislation.
- Hitler’s Nazi party orders "mercy killing" of mentally & physically disabled. Initiative originally focuses on newborns & young children but expands to include older disabled children & adults. Later revisions order the killing of anyone deemed “incurably sick” by their physician.
- American euthanasia movement is on defensive after growing negativity stemming from euthanasia program deployed by Nazis. Efforts made to distinguish ideological & practical differences between the two groups.
- Euthanasia is condemned by World Medical Association and recommend all national medical associations do the same.
- Opinion poll reveals only 36% of Americans want assisted suicide legalized (10% decrease from 1930).
- United Nations denies the Euthanasia Society of America’s request to declare “the right to die a basic human right for people dying of an incurable disease”.
- Growing interest in patient autonomy & rights renews interest in the euthanasia. Now seen as a personal rather than social or bio-medical issue. Term euthanasia begins to be replaced by “right to die".
- Attorney Louis Kutner prepares & justifies (in a law journal) the first living will.
- Right-to-die bill is proposed, but defeated in the U.S. state of Florida.
- Authority of U.S. medical professionals is attacked in the name of patient autonomy. Public wants physicians removed from decision making and patients should given opportunity to weigh benefits/burdens of continued life.
- American Medical Association adopts a "Patient's Bill of Rights", recognizing patient's right to refuse treatment.
- Karen Quinlan entered irreversible coma in 1974 & declared by doctors as being in a "persistent vegetative state". Wishing to remove her feeding tube, her parents are forced to go through New Jersey Supreme Court. Its ruled that she be detached from her respirator, signaling a legal landmark in terms of end-of-life issues.
- California Natural Death Act is passed, the nation's first aid in dying statute. Recognizes the authority of living wills under state law, and protects physicians from legal penalties.
- Following California’s lead, eight states -- California, New Mexico, Arkansas, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, North Carolina, and Texas -- sign right-to-die bills into law.
- World Federation of Right-to-Die Societies (27 organizations from 18 countries) is formed.
- Pope John Paul II issues Declaration on Euthanasia, officially opposing mercy killing but supporting patient's right to refuse extraordinary means for sustaining life.
- Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations announces support of aiding the terminally ill who wish to die. They are the first religious body to affirm a right to die.
- Dr. Jack Kevorkian, assists Janet Adkins (Michigan), in committing suicide, the first of many suicides in which he aids (evidence suggests at least 47).
- American Medical Association announces support for passive euthanasia (with informed consent, physician can withhold/withdraw treatment from patients close to death).
- Congress passes Patient Self-Determination Act, requiring hospitals to tell patients their right to refuse treatment.
- Survey demonstrates that 50% of Americans support physician-assisted death (increase from 1930s & 1950s).
- Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health - First right-to-die case the court agrees to hear. Parents of Nancy Cruzan (permanently unconscious after an accident) want her feeding tube removed, but Missouri Supreme Court intervenes.
U.S. Supreme Court rules that a competent person has constitutional right to refuse medical treatment. As a result of Nancy's living will, her feeding tube is removed and she dies.
- State of Washington introduces Initiative 119 to legalize "physician-aid-in-dying." The initiative is defeated.
- California voters (54% to 46%) deny the Death with Dignity Act, which would have allowed physicians to assist with the suicide of terminally ill patients.
- Oregon Death with Dignity Act is passed becoming the first in American State to permit physician-assisted suicide. Act does not become law until 1998.
- Australia’s Northern Territory approves Euthanasia Bill. Bill becomes law in 1996 & is overturned in 1997.
- Japanese court states physician assisted suicide is legal if meeting the following criteria; patient suffering unbearable physical pain, death is inevitable & imminent, all possible measures taken to eliminate pain, no other treatment left open, & that patient expressed the will to shorten their life.
- Columbia becomes first country to allow physician assisted suicide when Constitutional Court rules 6-3 that “an individual may choose to end his life and that doctors can't be prosecuted for their role in helping”.
- American President Bill Clinton signs Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act, prohibiting the use of federal funds in assisting in a patient’s wish to death.
- The Supreme Court rules in Washington v. Glucksberg and Vacco v. Quill that there is not a constitutional right to die.
- Oregon first U.S. state to legalize assisted suicide (Death with Dignity Law).
- Michigan introduces Proposal B to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Proposal voted down 71% to 29%.
- In Switzerland physician assisted suicide remains illegal, but legislation allows those without medical training to assist with suicide requests. DIGNITAS (To live with Dignity, to die with Dignity) is founded and offers assisted suicide to citizen’s of Switzerland and for those willing to travel.
- Dr. Jack Kevorkian sentenced to 10-25 years in prison for assisted suicide of Lou Thomas Youk, a Lou Gerags sufferer. Youk’s death was televised on “60 Minutes”, greatly increasing American awareness of euthanasia.
- The Netherlands legalizes euthanasia
- Maine introduces initiative, which dictates "A terminally ill adult, who is of sound mind, should be allowed to ask for and receive a doctor's help to die". The initiative is defeated by a margin of 51% to 49%.
- Belgium legalizes euthanasia.
- Terri Schiavo case draws international attention. Eight years after Terri suffered severe brain damage husband Michael requests to have her feeding tube removed. Her parent’s oppose & seven year legal battle ensues.
Florida Supreme Court overturns "Terri's Law" (previously enacted to continue use of her feeding tube). and Terri dies 13 days after her feeding tube is removed.
- Gonzales v. Oregon, Supreme Court rules that Controlled Substances Act does not authorize the Attorney General to ban the use of controlled substances for physician-assisted suicide. Oregon's Death with Dignity Law is upheld.
- A bill proposing the legalization of Euthanasia passes the first of two votes by Luxembourg's parliament.