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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

The Euthanasia Assisted Suicide Debate

Nickie Phillips

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Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD, formerly an adjunct in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice (where she was named the 2012 SGA Faculty Member of the Year) was welcomed back to St. Francis College by the Center for Crime and Popular Culture on November 14, 2013, when she spoke about “Prosecutorial Discretion in Medical Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Cases: Jack Kevorkian as a ‘Chapter’ in the Anglo-American Debate.” This talk was in conjunction with a launch of her book, The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate (Greenwood, 2012), which was short listed for the 2013 British Society of Criminology Book Prize and is nominated for the 2014 International Qualitative Inquiry Book Prize.

Pappas previously penned a PhD at the London School of Economics and Political Science (Department of Law, with co-supervision in the Department of Sociology), entitled The Politics of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: A Comparative Case Study

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 of Emerging Criminal Law and the Criminal Trials of Jack ‘Dr. Death’ Kevorkian, which was an ethnographic study of the criminal trials against euthanasia and assisted suicide doctor Kevorkian, and which included field chapters on chief prosecuting attorneys/judges, juries/jurors, family members of decedents and the role of the media in precipitating (as well as reporting upon) the Kevorkian cases.

A central point of Pappas’ presentation was that her doctoral work was but one chapter of her historical study.

 Her book also included a chapter on the medical euthanasia of King George V in 1936 and the conflict of interest of royal physician Lord Dawson of Penn during deliberations on legalizing medical euthanasia later that year (ironically, Lord Dawson was opposed to legalization and, more specifically, regulation, of medical euthanasia, because that would invade the province of the physician). She also spoke about how the grand jury in New York declined to indict Rochester Dr. Timothy Quill in 1991 (who later was among a group of doctors to sue for legal physician suicide, taking a landmark case to the United States Supreme Court) and a Louisiana grand jury declined to indict Dr. Anna Pou, who administered euthanasia to a number of patients in post-Katrina New Orleans.

During an animated Q and A was a question about whether, and under what conditions, people might be prosecuted for “death tourism,” i.e., traveling to jurisdictions where assisted suicide may be legally available to non-residents, pointing to the question of whether those who travel to Switzerland’s Dignitas should face criminal liability.