Recently, The Washington Times ran a story of some of the most notable cases involving a caregiver killing their patients. One of these involved former nurse, Charles Cullen, that killed 29 patients in hospitals and nursing homes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Although the Times article did not specify whether the Pennsylvania case involved assisted suicide, it certainly raised questions of what the law in Pennsylvania says about euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
What is Euthanasia?
Euthanasia occurs when one person helps another individual end their life. Usually, the person asking for an assisted suicide is suffering from a terminal illness and in many cases, they are close to the end of their life.
Euthanasia is a highly controversial and debatable issue, which is why it is illegal in most states. In Pennsylvania, physician-assisted is also illegal. However, there are legal ways doctors can help patients end their lives, if that is the patient’s choice.
The Law on Euthanasia in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, mercy killing and euthanasia are illegal. 20 Pa. C.S. Section 5402 states that no one, including physicians, can authorize, approve, or condone a patient that wants to end their life.
The statute is very clear that anyone that willfully helps a person take their own life could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor. A conviction for this crime can result in one to two years in prison, and a maximum fine of $5,000. Additionally, anyone that obtains supplies to help someone else take their life, or that confirms a plan to assist someone with suicide through communications such as email, can also face charges of a second-degree misdemeanor.
If a person is successful in helping someone end their life, or they attempt it but fail, the charges can be increased to a second-degree felony. Individuals convicted of this crime face up to ten years in prison and $25,000 in fines.
The Law on Withholding Life-Sustaining Measures
Although physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are both illegal in Pennsylvania, there are certain laws that allow individuals to end their life, if they are in a certain state of health and if they so choose. This is Pennsylvania’s Advance Directive for Health Care Act, which gives patients the right to control their own medical treatment.
The Act is not meant to provide a way for patients to obtain help ending their life. It is simply meant to allow patients to dictate what happens with their own health. Under this Act, a patient can request that they be taken off of life-sustaining treatment. When patients make this request and a physician grants it, that physician cannot be charged with homicide, even if it causes the patient to pass away.
Are You Facing Charges? Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers can Help
Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are incredibly sensitive topics. Some doctors and caregivers find themselves facing charges simply because the loved ones of someone that has passed away needs to blame someone. If you have been accused, there is a lot on the line. At van der Veen, Hartshorn and Levin, we can help. Our Allentown criminal defense lawyers understand that not everyone facing charges is guilty, and we can help you build a solid defense for your case. To get the help you need, call us with (215) 486-0123 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.