Despite the New Jersey legislature’s approval of suicide by physician, and the stated intention of Governor Phil Murphy to sign suicide by physician into New Jersey law, Americans United for Life underscores the good news that more states have acted to affirmatively protect their citizens from suicide by physician over the past 20 years than have implemented state-endorsed suicide. Americans United for Life encourages leaders in other states to expand life-affirming choice for persons facing difficult medical situations, particularly those living in poverty, members of the disability community and elder adults.
“It’s a tragedy that New Jersey politicians have passed the so-called ‘Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act’, because while this bill sounds innocuous, its name masks its true purpose,” states Catherine Glenn Foster, President & CEO of Americans United for Life, “which is the legalization of a new form of suicide for persons who might merely be facing the prospect, rather than the certainty, of a terminal situation.”
“We know from national and international experience that these bills always expand in scope,” continues Foster, “which means that what today might seem to some to be reasonable and limited will tomorrow become permissive of a variety of forms of intentional death for persons of all ages and conditions. Once suicide by physician is legalized in any form, the deadly logic behind state-endorsed intentional killing always expands to the point that there are functionally no limits on what sort of self-inflicted violence one might carry out on oneself—or demand a physician or another carry out on their behalf.”
New Jersey is set to become only the seventh state in the nation to condone suicide by physician, sometimes called “physician assisted suicide” or “medical aid in dying”. Americans United for Life advocates comprehensive suicide prevention efforts in light of an apparently increasing sympathy for certain forms of suicide, and encourages persons considering suicide by physician to seek assistance through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and other national and local resources.
Americans United for Life continues to advocate for life-affirming law and policy, and for the rights of conscience for physicians, nurses, and medical personnel who do not consent to facilitating the suicides of vulnerable persons. As Ezekiel J. Emanuel underscores:
“Patients themselves say that the primary motive is not to escape physical pain but psychological distress; the main drivers are depression, hopelessness and fear of loss of autonomy and control. Dutch researchers [who] … followed 138 terminally ill cancer patients and found that depressed patients were four times more likely to request euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. Nearly half of those who requested euthanasia were depressed.
“In this light, physician-assisted suicide looks less like a good death in the face of unremitting pain and more like plain old suicide. Typically, our response to suicidal feelings associated with depression and hopelessness is not to give people the means to end their lives but to offer them counseling and caring.”
We can work together to foster a culture that affirms all human life, and rejects violence and self-harm as unethical and illegitimate responses to the challenge of human dignity and solidarity.