Euthanasia versus States Rights

Recently, the television news program Sixty Minutes aired a rerun of the Barbara Mancini case about euthanasia. Mancini’s father asked her for a bottle of morphine used for measured applications and drank the bottle. Barbara Mancini was arrested and charged with assisting a suicide. Ultimately, months later, a judge dismissed the charge for lack of independent investigation. On the day she was arrested, the father was taken to a hospital where the very experience he vehemently deplored played out. He died of morphine toxicity four days later incurring a large hospital bill.
The interview can be viewed at
The first and best known advocate of assisted suicide for terminally ill individuals is Jack Kevorkian. He devoted the later part of his career traveling the US helping 130 terminally ill patients end their lives. Eventually, he was arrested for second degree murder and served eight years in prison.
Opinion about euthanasia is polarized similarly to the abortion issue. There is no ground for compromise – a person dies or doesn’t die – at the hand of fellow human beings. Only three states have laws permitting euthanasia; two states have determined that euthanasia is legal under the state constitution; two states have a medical procedure based on living wills that permits euthanasia. Interestingly, the six states involved are a mix of notably liberal and conservative states and are geographically spread around the United States.
The mariner could continue to write about either euthanasia or abortion ad infinitum but he is not a physician and does not have the Wisdom of Solomon. His opinion is moot, as a jurist might say.
What strikes the mariner as a national issue is whether state rights in our democratic republic always serve the best good for the nation and its citizens. Recently, the rebel battle flag Stars and Bars, a state rights issue, was superseded by national opinion about prejudice and the heinous murder of nine church members. The question to ask is whether the individual states with history as a confederate state should be permitted in any case to sustain oppressive racist practices – the same question for other issues like euthanasia and abortion, all of which have prominent national opinions and outcomes. Simply said, how can helping a person die be okay in one state but not be okay in another? The ethical argument is not associated with state terrain, economy, or local culture. Rather, it is a US Constitution civil rights issue and a religious denomination issue but it is managed state by state.
The conflict between local state prerogative and Federal mandate was demonstrated recently by a Supreme Court opinion mandating states to practice and recognize homosexual marriage. Some southern states still are struggling to escape the Court’s opinion. If one opens this Pandora’s box, one discovers arguments leaning toward erasing separation of church and state, social segregation by businesses that looks very much like racial segregation did vis-à-vis the right not to serve African Americans, and the same illogical dissonance about a behavior being okay in one state but not okay in another.
Other areas related to infrastructure (oil pipelines and electrical grids), medical costs and medical insurance, tax codes, entitlements, and other issues entwined with Federal law and national opinion, are manipulated by state level interests to prevent Federal law or national opinion. For example, the Affordable Care Act is a Federal mandate for health care but medical insurance costs and policies are a state-by-state application – to the advantage of the insurance companies.
The mariner suspects that the founding fathers had to deal with very independent states who still, in some respects, considered themselves independent countries bound together at best like the European Union. Just as the second amendment was created for reasons of national defense but today is interpreted in a paranoid way by anarchists and isolationists, so too were states allowed independent constitutions, independent civil police authority, and today are allowed to create a disparate moral culture.
Some readers may say there is strength in diversity; some may say morality is based in universally accepted truths. The mariner would suggest that it is no longer beneficial for states to behave like individual countries just as it is troublesome to continue to tolerate an eighteenth century interpretation of the right to bear arms. Drawing the line as to where a state may be independent or not is a difficult assignment; the need today – especially with international economic consortiums, global environment issues and the fragmentation of what the American spirit represents – requires us to consider more strongly national rights. One nation. One people. One vision.

Ancient Mariner

3 thoughts on “Euthanasia versus States Rights

  1. Well, I think the entire point of “states’ rights” is to enforce policies that are not (in the general opinion, at least) for the “best good for the nation and its citizens”. After all, one of the Founding Fathers’ most enduring legacies is a stalwart mistrust of government. Perhaps one of their most important, too; definitely one of their most frustrating, from a policy wonk’s perspective. Although I am not sure what, say, the Commonwealth of Kentucky ever did for anyone that the Feds couldn’t or didn’t.

    As a man o’ the West I heed the Yuan Dynasty proverb “Heaven is high and the emperor is far away.” And I like it that way. Throttled (or complicit) government is not good, but constrained government is good, and local government is good too. The balance between the often co-regnant, often conflicting State and Federal jurisdictions is a large part of the dialectic of American politics.

    When it comes to Euthanasia – as with most things – I side with the individual. When it comes to death I am more concerned about “God’s rights” than anything else. I am no longer completely confident that robotic immortality technology will outpace my own senescence.

    • Ben – A cogent reply. It was suggested in the post that drawing the line between Federal and State obligations is difficult. There was no intention to imply that states should pack up and go away. Perhaps if it can be ruled in a court of law that an issue like euthanasia is a common concern of all citizens, that the policy should be dealt with at the national level. Given that the mariner searches for the holy grail of reason, he must nevertheless yield to the self-possessed nature of his primitive species. It is no wonder there are few republics in the world.
      As the environment begins to crumble around us, bringing the holocene to an end, not only are nation-to-state conflicts unhelpful, international agendas are in even worse circumstances.
      As to the last paragraph, your dependence on the individual for euthanasia is much better than depending on 50 states individually. In reference to your senescense, do you suggest we will never reach George Jetson’s utopia?

      • I believe the history of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) is instructive. We will continue consuming resources to build giant pointless statuary for our aristocrats until the resources run out, then we will pull down the statues in internecine warfare, then the survivors will live in harmony with nature because there are no longer any alternatives.

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