By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A former Democratic gubernatorial candidate who is terminally ill cannot die by assisted suicide, a judge ruled Tuesday, saying doctors engaging in such a practice are committing “criminal conduct.”
John Jay Hooker, 84, has terminal cancer and has doctors who have expressed a willingness to prescribe him a lethal dosage of painkillers.
State law allows a person to refuse end-of-life care, but aid-in-dying or assisted suicide is illegal in Tennessee. Doctors in Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana can prescribe life-ending drugs, and California lawmakers passed legislation earlier this month that would allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives.
In Tennessee, doctors sought protection from prosecution if Hooker was administered the drugs.
Chancellor Carol McCoy ruled against the plaintiffs. She said they “do not have standing to bring this action.”
“The aid-in-dying prescription involves a script for a lethal dose of medication to cause quick death, not to provide palliative care to relieve physical pain and discomfort, as is allowed,” McCoy said. “If the physicians intend to provide lethal drugs to end their patients’ lives, they engage in criminal conduct.”
Hooker’s attorney, Hal Hardin, did not immediately return a call. But he has argued that a person has a fundamental right to die with a doctor’s help under the Tennessee Constitution.
Hardin has said state law is contradictory and unconstitutionally vague, but McCoy disagreed.
“The assisted-suicide statute is constitutional, is not void for vagueness and does not violate any of the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights under the Tennessee or U.S. Constitutions,” she ruled.
Hooker, who has fought for civil and constitutional rights for 60 years, told the AP in a phone interview that he plans to appeal the ruling.
“For decades I have been challenging judges who won’t honor the constitution,” he said. “And I’m going to continue, until the day I die.”