Rosenkranz Remarks

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The Assisted Suicide Debate: Perspectives from a Lawyer and Insurance Executive

by robertrosenkranz on January 22, 2015

Question from Moderator John Donvan:
You’ve been an insurance executive, and number two, you’ve been a lawyer. And you, looking at this topic, those two perspectives gave you kind of interesting insight on this. So start with the insurance executive side of it first.

Robert Rosenkranz:
Well, our insurance company ensures about 8 percent of the U.S. labor force against catastrophic injuries at work. So, I see a lot of case of people who are really, really seriously injured. I saw one just last week, of somebody who is now a quadriplegic and going to be bedridden for the rest of their lives, to 30-year-old who has a life expectancy of 30 years.  And a person like that, who might decide that life is not worth living cannot end it except with assistance. And yet the statute doesn’t really cover them. The statutes at least in Oregon and — and Washington only refer to terminally ill. So, in some ways, you know, the — the statutory issue is narrower than what I think might be the issues that — that ought to be discussed tonight.

John Donvan:
And that gets to the lawyer side of your experience. You went and sat down and read the statute, and you came back with some interesting responses.

Robert Rosenkranz:
Well, the other — the other thing — requirement of the statute besides terminal illness is that person has to be capable of making a decision. And that term “capable” is not defined. And indeed they talk about — the statute talks about an ability to communicate their decision in ways that imply that the person is barely able to communicate at all.  So, you know, maybe just shaking their head or squeezing a hand or blinking an eye or something like that, which the implication is that it would be very, very hard to actually assess their mental acute or their ability to make these critical decisions. So, that just struck me, as a lawyer, as a pretty troublesome bit of legal draftsmanship in this question of who is capable legally of deciding whether to invoke the statute for legally assisted suicide.

John Donvan:
So, what’s interesting in this one is there is this clash of principles that runs right into practicalities and the practicalities, the details leave all sorts of room for interpretation.

Robert Rosenkranz:
I mean, the more you think about this, the more complicated it gets. And it is a very, very highly emotional issue for a lot of people, and it’s going to touch their lives in very profound ways.  But we’re talking about legalizing something, which means passing a statute, and therefore you’ve got to pay some attention to the language of that statute and what the limitations are and what the ambiguities are.

Thank you to the students that attended this rigorous debate from the New York City Urban Debate League, pictured above in this post.  Best of luck to the 400+ students continuing this debate in citywide tournaments this month.


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