By Jennifer Popik, J.D., Legislative Counsel, NRLC’s Powell Center for Medical Ethics
The New Jersey Assembly Health Committee was slated to consider a dangerous doctor prescribed suicide measure (A2270) June 5. Despite a failed effort to advance the same bill last session due to lack of support as well as a veto threat from Gov. Chris Christie, suicide advocates of assisting suicide are charging ahead.
The assisting-suicide advocacy groups, Compassion & Choices and the Death with Dignity National Center, have targeted several states this legislative session and New Jersey is high on their list.
The groups promote essentially the same language that governs both Oregon and Washington. The language, developed initially for Oregon, purports to “safeguard” the practice of doctor prescribed suicide by restricting it to the terminally ill and the competent.
The so-called safeguards have been widely criticized. Diane Coleman, president and CEO of Not Dead Yet, a leading national disability organization against assisting suicide, recently said of its advocates,
They have no answers to our arguments, namely that all these legalization bills are dangerous and discriminatory….There is no meaningful protection in any of these bills for people vulnerable to coercion and abuse. How would a doctor observe coercion that occurs at home behind closed doors? And with no independent witness required at the death, we have no way of knowing what really happened.
Nonetheless, this legislation is now facing the New Jersey Health Committee in the Assembly.
A New Jersey Star-Ledger article by Susan Livio, “Assembly panel to debate, vote on assisted suicide bill today” observes
The same committee approved the bill in the last legislative session but it never gained momentum amid opposition from physician groups, hospice providers and the New Jersey Catholic Conference. Many of the same opponents say they will be back to testify against the bill…..
The Medical Society of New Jersey, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, a private attorney and representatives from the group, Not Dead Yet, a national, grassroots disability rights group have announced they will testify against the bill.
Although assisting suicide is only legal for a small fraction of the world’s population, advocates remain focused on promoting this dangerous legislation. Currently, doctor-prescribed suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont –and may have some legal protection in the state of Montana, due to a court decision. Also, an appeal is pending of a Second District court decision in New Mexico that struck their decades-old ban on assisting suicide.
In seeking to head off the organized, well-funded lobby that advocates legalization of assisting suicide, it is crucial to expose the inaccuracy of the claim that “safeguards” can effectively prevent undoubted abuse.
More information on how the safeguards are an illusion is available here: www.nrlc.org/MedEthics/WhySafeguardsDontWork.pdf
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