Physican-Assisted Suicide May Become Legal in N.J.

jackPhysician assisted suicide may become legal in the state of New Jersey. The bill, A3328, or “Death with Dignity Act” was proposed by Assemblyman John Burzichelli but if passed will need the voters to approve it.

And it would seem that the public might follow suit with such a decision, in light of recent history of the bill, says Dr. Joseph Patten, Chair of the Department of Political Science and Sociology

“A few years back the United States Supreme Court upheld a physician assisted suicide bill in Oregon, known as the Death with Dignity Act, on the grounds that the doctor patient relationship links to privacy rights and that the state of Oregon was within its rights to allow terminally ill patients some say in the manner and timing of their passing. Some public polling also reveals that most Americans support this as a privacy right as well,” says Patten.

Dr. Gregory Bordelon, a lecturer of political science, agrees with Patten’s statement of a primarily supportive American consensus with the act.

“New Jersey is treading cautiously on the matter as committee hearings begin [very] shortly since the bill will ultimately be approved by the voters. This mechanism could give the bill some democratic legitimacy if a court challenge is brought,” said Bordelon.

He continues on to remark that “Coupled with the decision six years ago in Gonzales v. Oregon, would solidify the law in constitutional terms, and it appears that [the] courts are cognizant of an autonomous, process privacy right in one’s decision to terminate one’s life.”

On a more detailed note, the Act would allow a qualified patient to self-administer themselves medication in order to end their life in a humane and dignified matter; which is a contrast to the current state law, where it is considered a crime to purposely help another person commit suicide.

If the bill is passed however, a patient with six months, or less, to live would need to make two verbal requests and one written request, and have two witnesses in accompaniment upon the written request, in order to receive a lethal dose of medication. In addition to the already complicated process, two doctors would need to certify the terminal diagnosis and send the patient for counseling.

Sophomore Marine Biology student, Renee Kelsey, contests that such a law would be a beneficial gain to the state as a whole. “Whenever you love someone you want to see them live and be alive. When they are terminally ill, or in a coma, or had a stroke for instance, they are not living,” said Kelsey.

She goes on to mention a personal experience involving her grandmother, and how that led to her approval behind the law. “My father had to make the decision to pull the plug on my grandmother when she went through a stroke. She used to be the most alive and energetic person I knew. When she had a machine breathing for her and wasn’t able to communicate with anyone, everyone knew that she wouldn’t want to continue living this way,” Kelsey said.

According to Bordelon though, naturally there are going to be obstacles and those opposed to such a proposal. “Opponents of the New Jersey bill can point to several concerns with the legislation. The “six-month to live” condition may not be absolute if medical evidence can be put forth [proving] that some patients with particular afflictions could live longer. If that is the case, there could be an open question as to liability, possibly both civil and criminal, to physicians who are involved in a ‘Death with Dignity’ situation,” said Bordelon.

Furthermore, he mentions that patients under the act do not have to consult with family members about the decision, and evidence concerning the patient’s mental state could be contested by the family members.

All of which leads him to determine that any amount of ascertaining the mental capacity of the patient must be done, all of which makes the declaration to die under the act problematic; an issue which he comments was initially explored by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health

“These problems among others could have led to reasons why, despite early support in the fall of 2012, a similar bill was not passed by Massachusetts voters last month,” Bordelon states.

The final resolution will now lie on the shoulders of the voters and those who may, one day, have to make that choice.