By: Emma Hurst, Staff Writer
Oregon, Montana, Washington, Vermont, Hawaii, California, Colorado, and Washington D.C. were among the first states to introduce and pass legislation that would allow physician assisted suicide, or euthanasia, to terminally ill patients. In Oregon alone, 1,275 patients have died from the drugs provided to take their own lives.
Following this trend, New Jersey is taking steps towards passing similar legislation. The bill appears to be a high priority for New Jersey delegators, as the state’s Senate deliberately replaced two senators who had previously opposed this legislation. The state legislative committee voted “to advance a bill that would make it legal for doctors to prescribe lethal doses of death-inducing drugs to patients suffering from terminal illness.” The bill requires that two doctors must agree on the patient’s diagnosis and life span. Additionally, the bill requires the patient “to submit three requests, with at least one in writing, to a doctor in order to obtain the drug –the individual would then have to self-administer the medication.”
Unsurprisingly, many are opposed to such a bill in New Jersey. Dr. Edward J. Furton, an ethicist, argues, “like other states that have confused liberty with license, New Jersey is considering a law that would promote physician-prescribed death. The proposal violates the sacred oath of the medical profession, recognized even by pre-Christian cultures, to heal the sick and preserve life.” Dr. Furton believes that this type of legislation goes against the oath taken by medical professionals, he further states, “physicians should have no part in this reversal of the traditional aims of their profession, preserving health and life.”
The issue of euthanasia is a sensitive topic, but an interesting one when looked at legally. It will be up to the courts to determine whether these pieces of legislation are constitutional when the question is presented to them. As Yale Kamisar stated in her article, Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: The Cases Are in the Pipeline, “The issue of assisted suicide will divide the lower courts until the highest court in the land resolves it.” Accordingly, in California, a judge overturned the 2016 End of Life Option Law in May of 2018. The question reached the California superior court judge after Groups such as the Life Defense Foundation and the American Academy of Medical Ethics, brought suit to overturn the law the exact day it became effective.
The same type of suit could be brought in New Jersey. The Patients’ Rights Action Fund is one of the groups in the state that actively oppose the legislation moving through the New Jersey Senate. The Patients’ Rights Action Fund was founded by J.J. Hanson, a Marine Corps veteran who, after learning about his terminal brain cancer in 2014, “dedicated his final days to fighting the legalization of assisted suicide.” J.J.’s work was overtaken by his wife, Kristen, who argues that introducing laws that allow terminally ill patients to end their life so easily is “wildly irresponsible and undignified.” Kristen explains that when her husband was first diagnosed, he was given four months to live and ended up living four additional years. She stated, “These laws abandon vulnerable patients like J.J. who can experience periods of depression at any point following their diagnosis . . . Once patients receive the lethal prescription, they are on their own.” Kristen states rather than allowing patients to choose to end their own life “we should be looking at improving multi-disciplinary end-of-life care, not assisted suicide.”
Nevertheless, if the legislation passes the New Jersey Legislative branch, suits by opposition are likely. Then it is up to the courts to determine constitutionality. While the Supreme Court of the United States “has given legal sanction to passive euthanasia” by “permitting ‘living will’ by patients on withdrawing medical support if they slip into irreversible coma,” it has yet to rule on bills such as the one purposed in New Jersey. However, once again, “the issue of assisted suicide will divide the lower courts until the highest court in the land resolves it.” Ultimately, it will be up to the Supreme Court to determine whether bills like the one in New Jersey will remain.