By Jennifer Popik, JD, Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics
On June 26, 2014, the New Jersey Assembly adjourned without voting on a proposal to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide “after the sponsor said he could not find enough votes to get it passed,” according to an article in the State Ledger. The reporter noted that “Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D Gloucester), who sponsored A2270 . . . hopes to bring it back to the full Assembly for consideration after the summer recess.”
Despite this temporary setback, the assisting-suicide advocacy groups, Compassion & Choices and the Death with Dignity National Center, are on the march in several states. The groups targeted several states this legislative session, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.
Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society) promotes bill language, developed initially for Oregon, that 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.”
The Medical Society of New Jersey, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Not Dead Yet, and many others highlighted its dangers in testimony before the health committee, which nevertheless voted out the measure to the Assembly floor.
Although in promoting such legislation suicide advocates claim to only support a safeguarded approach for the terminally ill suffering in pain, in fact, they promote death as the “solution” for any whose “quality of life,” in their stated opinion, makes life not worth living.
Thus, after trumpeting “safeguards” in the Oregon and Washington State laws, in Vermont Compassion and Choices successfully advocated a bill that repeals virtually all the Oregon-style “safeguards” after three years. A group called True Dignity Vermont is hard at work on a repeal of this dangerous law.
Due to the confusion and potential liability that pharmacists might face, and the fact that hospitals are leery of litigation, nearly all Vermont physicians have been directed by their hospital employers not to write lethal prescriptions at this time. Indeed, only two have been written over one full year of legalization. Neither was used – instead, the patients died from their underlying conditions. Also, thanks to the pushback in the state, a battle is expected next legislative session.
More information on how the safeguards are an illusion is available here: www.nrlc.org/MedEthics/WhySafeguardsDontWork.pdf