Euthanasia & Contractual Capacity

Photo Credit: Unsplash

By Ashley Javier, Staff Writer

The concept behind euthanasia is that one may die with dignity, in which the individual believes he or she would rather end life in a more peaceful manner than to prolong the suffering they are experiencing and may endure in the future.  Euthanasia is often referred to as “physician-assisted suicide,” and is the medical practice of deciding that treatment is no longer preserving and restorative. Instead, life support should be discontinued to terminate the life of a dying patient who is capable to make this decision.[1]

This is an expanding controversial ethical issue present in today’s society and legislature, in which there are several arguments for and against physician-assisted suicide. Currently, only six states have legalized physician-assisted suicide via legislation and court ruling: California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.[2]

October 2014 brought an increase in awareness of the surrounding legal and ethical concerns that roused out of a physician-assisted suicide case.[3]  “In 1994, Oregon voters approved the Death with Dignity Act, authorizing doctors to assist terminal patients with six months or less to live to end their lives.”.[4]

In 2014, a 29-year-old woman named Brittney Maynard had a brain tumor and ended her life in Oregon under the assisted suicide law. She wanted to end her life peacefully, and advocated “dying with dignity” for the terminally ill being able to have the choice to end their lives. She was originally being treated in a different state, but had to travel to a state that would allow her, under the assisted suicide law, to end her life. Her efforts got the attention of approximately 20 states who introduced “Aid in Dying Bills” to the legislatures in 2015.[5] A recent poll showed that 82% of the population supports a change in the law on assisted suicide for those who are terminally ill.[6]

The idea of dying with dignity raises concerns of the domino effect: if we allow the right to end someone’s life, what will come next?[7]

The legality of this matter considers the patient’s contractual capacity to create valid contracts.[8] In Oregon and other states with legalized physician-assisted suicide, there are precautions in place regarding the formation of contracts and the procedure of assisted suicide. In order for it to be enforceable, doctors must write prescriptions for the terminally ill patient, and the patient must have asked for the prescription both orally and in writing.[9] Then follows a 15-day waiting period after which there must be two witnesses to a second agreement, as well as a second doctor to confirm that patient is terminally ill.[10]

The patient him or herself must physically take the drugs and no one else may administer it.[11] Prior to this, the patients have to be aware and told of other available options. Since the patient is taking the drugs by his or her own actions, no one is liable, and there is some contractual capacity since there is intent.[12]   If it discovered that the patient did not truly want to end life and did so out of coercion or falsified documents, it is punished as a criminal offense.[13] The concept of contractual capacity is relevant to this controversial topic in that age, mental capacity, and drugs can alter a terminally ill patient from having true consent and intentions.

Keeping in mind elements of contract law and legislature, moral ethical concerns, and the enhancing medical field, euthanasia is subject to change in years to follow, in either direction. Contract clauses, restrictions, and regulations are very likely to change to be sound with public policy.







[4] Id.

[5] Id.



[8] Ch. 5 “Legality of Subject Matter and Contractual Capacity.” Basic Contract Law for Paralegals. 7th ed. N.p.: Aspen, 2013. 105-12. Print.


[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Ch. 10 “Allowing Someone to Die, Mercy Death, and Mercy Killing.” Ethics Theory and Practice. 11th ed. N.p.: Pearson, 2012. 183-209. Print.

[13] Id.



Comments are closed.