New Jersey vote shouldn’t end aid-in-dying debate | Editorial
New Jersey recently passed an aid-in-dying — or as others say, assisted suicide — bill. But discussions around this issue will continue. As they should.
Supporters of New Jersey’s Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, which Gov. Phil Murphy is poised to sign, claim the measure offers suffering people a humane exit strategy. Opponents insist it gives government dangerous authority to enable, if not encourage, suicide among vulnerable citizens.
A similarly profound split was evident in last week’s vote in Trenton to make New Jersey the eighth state in the nation to provide for assisted suicide, with Republicans nearly unanimous in opposition and Democrats close to united in support. And while about two-thirds of Garden State residents surveyed in a much-cited 2015 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll had no moral objection to an earlier version of the bill, the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, and the Catholic Church strenuously object to such measures.
Murphy is wise to sign the bill into law. It has been thoroughly vetted, and it offers comfort. But the objections should not be easily dismissed.
It’s no surprise the prospect of government permitting terminally ill people to seek prescriptions for a fatal dose of sedatives is an inherently volatile notion, capable of cuing up highly charged memories of lost loved ones, fears of one’s own demise, and dystopian scenarios of forced euthanasia disguised as compassion.
The restrictions New Jersey built into the proposal — only competent adults with less than six months of remaining life would be eligible — as well as safeguards in the process (physicians, witnesses, waiting periods) notwithstanding, opponents worry fragile patients could be coerced by unscrupulous relatives or cost-cutting health-care systems. Opponents also see assisted suicide as categorizing certain lives as less worthy than others.
Supporters insist the 20 years since Oregon became the nation’s first state to approve such legislation have yielded virtually no evidence of such abuse. They note that about a third of people who opt to pursue assisted suicide never exercise the choice, but likely enjoy greater peace of mind knowing it remains available to them.
With the aid-in-dying issue, the personal is indeed political. Which is why testimonies offered by advocates on both sides are powerful and persuasive. As well as irreconcilable.
The availability of assisted suicide “could be really dangerous for a person who is already feeling they’re too much trouble to the people around them,” said Diane Coleman, founder, president, and CEO of Not Dead Yet/The Resistance, a disabled rights advocacy group.
“If there was a cure, they would gladly take it. But they don’t have that option,” said Sean Crowley, media relations director of Compassion & Choices. The Oregon-based advocacy group for aid-in-dying has been lobbying in Trenton for seven years.
By all accounts, the debate in the statehouse has been unusually, even refreshingly, thorough. Perhaps Pennsylvania and other states will learn from New Jersey’s experience.
And any state where such a bill has or may become law ought to listen closely to the concerns of Not Dead Yet and other organizations whose questions are, after all, about matters of life and death.