Activists are in an aggressive campaign promoting doctor-prescribed death across several states

By Jennifer Popik, J.D., Legislative Counsel for NRLC’s Powell Center for Medical Ethics

Jennifer Popik, JD

Jennifer Popik, JD

The recent defeat of an assisted suicide ballot measure in Massachusetts has not deterred those advocating doctor-prescribed suicide.  While physician-assisted suicide remains illegal in  nearly every jurisdiction in the United States, those who tirelessly promote doctor-prescribed suicide are on an all-out state blitz. Vermont, Connecticut, and New Jersey are currently facing bills that would legalize such medical killing. No state legislature has yet to legalize the dangerous practice, and only Washington and Oregon,  as a result of  ballot initiatives, affirmatively allow doctors to prescribe lethal prescriptions to patients.

In Connecticut, which has banned the practice since 1969, lawmakers said that they may hold a hearing later this month. In Vermont, a bill with the strong backing of the pro-doctor prescribed suicide governor Pete Shumlin, recently cleared the Vermont Senate Health and Welfare Committee but is expected to face  more resistance in the Judiciary Committee. And in New Jersey, a public hearing was held Thursday on a similar bill. That legislation would ultimately be subject to voter approval.  Each of these bills being proposed is nearly identical to what is in place in both Oregon and Washington. 

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin

While assisted suicide is often promoted as a “personal decision” in the hands of the “terminally ill,” this is quite far from reality. Disability rights groups, one of the most vocal opponents of these measures, voice  opposition in Vermont and anywhere this legislation is promoted.  “We understand what it means to deal with issues like the loss of one’s former dreams as well as the loss of physical abilities,” said Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living. “If assisted suicide had been legal in the past, even if it were supposedly only for those with ‘terminal’ conditions, many of us would not be here today.”

Proponents of doctor-prescribed suicide measures often tout so-called safeguards.  Not only are these safeguards not working, but there are dangerous loopholes in Oregon’s and Washington’s laws.  There is no way to know how many people suffering from mental illness have used  this law.  Another loophole is that the laws literally require death certificates to be  falsified, listing an underlying condition as the cause of death, not suicide. The effect is to  hide the real number of suicides.  Further, heirs can serve among  of the witnesses to the request.  With no witness at the time of death, how can anyone be sure if the person (if they are even personally taking the drugs) is in any position to make decisions with lethal consequences?  A piece titled, “Why the So-Called Safeguards Don’t Work” is available here: www.nrlc.org/MedEthics/WhySafeguardsDontWork.pdf

If you live in Vermont, New Jersey, or Connecticut, it is essential that you call your state legislators now and urge them to vote NO on any measure that would legalize doctor-prescribed suicide. Let them know that this bill would put the lives of older people, those with disabilities, and medically vulnerable citizens in danger, and that no one should be made to feel that suicide is his or her  only viable option.

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