Mental Competence and End-of-Life Decision Making: Death Row Volunteering and Euthanasia
Harrington, C. Lee
Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 2004 December; 29(6): 1109-1151
This article reports on a qualitative study of defense attorneys' perceptions of the mental competence or rationality of death row inmates' decisions to waive habeas appeals and proceed directly to execution. Interviews were conducted with twenty attorneys who have either directly represented or been closely involved with would-be volunteers. Through analytic comparison with another end-of-life decision, euthanasia, this article reports on four themes from the interviews: (a) attorneys' perceptions of the legal standard of competence, (b) their perceptions of the competency evaluation process, (c) implications of competing interpretive frames (i.e., volunteering vs. suicide), and (d) the rationality of decisions to waive appeals. Implications of research findings, particularly in terms of recent restructured models of competence, are also discussed.
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