By Jon Vitale
Elm Staff Writer
The New Jersey state legislature has passed a bill legalizing medically assisted suicide for patients who wish to end their lives. Governor Phil Murphy has pledged to sign the bill, which will make New Jersey the eighth state to legalize medically assisted suicide, after California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Vermont, and Hawaii. The District of Columbia has also legalized the practice.
Under the provisions of the bill, a person must be declared mentally stable to make the decision and must be allowed a second option on the diagnosis. If these conditions are met, a patient will then be allowed to end their life via a series of pills that can be taken at home. CNN reports that an additional 19 states are considering adopting similar legislation.
Medically assisted suicide has been a subject of vast debate and controversy for years. Recently, Canada legalized the practice nationwide, and doctors in Ottawa have risen in protest, arguing that they should not be forced to partake in a practice they consider murder, or to refer patients to someone who will. Additionally, the doctors argue that assisted suicide has a negative impact on those who suffer from mental health problems. About 90 percent of people who commit suicide have some form of mental health problem. In an article for The Ottawa Citizen, columnist John Wilson says “We hope our representatives will act with fairness and compassion and help reduce the stigma that afflicts those with mental illness.”
These concerns considered, New Jersey was not wrong to move in this direction, and other states would be wise to follow suit.
Many of the statistics regarding mental health and suicide commonly used to argue against assisted suicide are misleading. Canada and various European countries only recently fully legalized medically assisted suicide and given the very limited status in the United States, terminally ill people in these countries have not often been able to end their own lives. The result is skewed statistics that show very little about the effects of legalizing assisted suicide. Additionally, “mental health problems” is such a broad term, it can easily be blanketed over diseases that are terminal. An example is dementia, for which some 80 percent of Canadians support legalizing medically assisted suicide, according to Canadian Medical Association.
The moral questions the Ottawa doctors raised can be addressed while still keeping assisted suicide legal. A doctor with moral opposition can and should be given an ability to opt-out before taking on a terminally-ill patient. A patient considering ending their life can then select a doctor willing to accommodate the practice if need be. This would prevent doctors from being forced to carry out something they see as murder and make the law fair. New Jersey does not currently have such a provision but should consider adding one.
All things considered, forcing terminally-ill patients to suffer through months of illness to make ourselves feel better is narrow-minded and selfish. People should be free to make these decisions for themselves, and it is unfair for the government to force any moral inclinations on someone who is ready to go before their illness takes them. So long as doctors are not forced into the practice, other states would do well to follow New Jersey’s path and legalize medically assisted suicide.