by Sean Jackson
In April 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill entitled the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, which allows for adults that have a prognosis of six months or less to live to be prescribed life-ending medication. Currently at least 19 states are in the process of considering physician-assisted suicide laws.
In the case of New Jersey, legislators have been trying to pass versions of the physician assisted suicide bill since 2014. The first time the bill had went to a vote in the Senate it was passed into law.
Governor Murphy joins other jurisdictions that allow for physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill, including California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Hawaii, Montana, and Washington D.C. The Governor issued a press release in support of the bill, expressing that it would help protect human dignity, stating, “Allowing residents with terminal illnesses to make end-of-life choices for themselves is the right thing to do.”
Before a patient is deemed capable of making the life-ending decision, the law requires that a psychiatrist or psychologist determines whether they are ready, willing, and able before the prescription of the pills, which are self-administered by the patient from the comfort of their own home.
In Victoria, Australia, a woman suffering from cancer has become the first person to end her life under the state’s newest voluntary assisted dying law. Kerry Robertson, 61, had been living with cancer for close to a decade and chose to end her life instead of persisting with the terminal disease.
Robertson’s daughters, Jacqui Hicks and Nicole Robertson spoke with the advocacy group Go Gentle Australia, saying that their mother’s death was, “beautiful and peaceful” and that, “It was a beautiful, positive experience. It was the empowered death that she wanted.”
The assisted suicide took a total of twenty-six days until completion, and both daughters said that the process went smoothly, saying that their mother was “ready to go” and that, “her body was failing her and she was in incredible pain. She’d been in pain for a long time.”
While there is increasing support among some people over whether physician-assisted suicide, or PAS, is an acceptable choice for the terminally ill, there are some that are apprehensive about the implications of such laws.
New Jersey Senator Robert Singer expressed concern over the recently passed New Jersey law, saying, “The bill has lasting ramifications and lots of loopholes. We are so concerned about opioids, and not trusting doctors with opioids. But now we are willing to trust them with this.”
Some bioethicists are concerned over whether or not PAS could be a potential ‘slippery slope’. Dr. Frederick White, a cardiologist from Louisiana and a delegate from the American Medical Association voted in opposition to physician assisted suicide, saying that it puts vulnerable patients at risk, and is contrary to the physician’s role as a healer.
When asked whether or not PAS could be considered a slippery slope, Dr. White replied, “I have no doubt that the ‘slippery slope’ applies in PAS. PAS can rapidly devolve into generally accepted euthanasia. In the Netherlands in 2016, nearly 6,600 people were administered PAS or euthanasia, being about 5% of deaths. Almost 500 people died in ‘End of Life Clinics’ and 212 people received PAS or euthanasia in the end-of-life clinics for dementia, psychiatric disease, or ‘accumulation of various old-age afflictions.”