Commentary

Physician-Assisted Suicide, Now Legal in New Jersey, Denies Humanity and Dignity

By Monica Burke | August 1, 2019 | 9:34am EDT
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As of Thursday, physician-assisted suicide is legal in New Jersey.

The new policy stems from legislation passed by the state’s Legislature back in April. The law allows terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six months or fewer to self-administer lethal concoctions of drugs to take their own lives.

Lawmakers claim that this policy will promote “humanity, dignity, and respect”—but in reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Physician-assisted suicide denies the humanity, dignity, and respect owed to people at the end of their lives. It is a direct attack upon humanity, dignity, and respect for every human being—whatever lawmakers might say.

Every human life has value, precisely because it is human. Physician-assisted suicide tells us that some lives are simply not worth living, and that lie is having a devastating effect on our health care system, familial and doctor-patient relationships, and our culture overall.

Who qualifies for physician-assisted suicide has no natural limit. New Jersey is limiting practice to the terminally ill with a six-month prognosis—for now.

But what about those who expect to live for another seven months? Eight? A year? Why limit this practice to the terminally ill? What about other kinds of challenging or painful circumstances?

Other countries already have started down the slippery slope of expanding who qualifies for physician-assisted suicide. Many also practice nonvoluntary euthanasia—another seemingly natural consequence of the logic of physician-assisted suicide.

Canada’s parliament is considering expanding physician-assisted suicide to include requests by mature minors, advance requests, and requests where mental illness is the sole underlying medical condition.

In response, a Canadian children’s hospital unveiled a plan to help sick children commit suicide without their parents’ consent—a practice that is already legal in Belgium, where doctors have euthanized children as young as 9.

In one recent case from the Netherlands, a teenage girl made news after her parents and doctors allowed her to commit suicide by removal of food and water because she believed she could not recover from sexual trauma.

This incident is symptomatic of an overall depreciation of respect for life in the Netherlands, where doctors frequently disregard guidelines for physician-assisted suicide in order to euthanize patients.

No amount of legal safeguards are sufficient to prevent these abuses.

The legalization of physician-assisted suicide creates perverse incentives for hospitals and insurance companies to promote death as a cost-effective solution rather than invest in ethical end-of-life care.

It also upends the doctor-patient relationship. Physicians are supposed to promote the health and holistic well-being of their patients. Physician-assisted suicide goes directly against that purpose, and against the time-honored Hippocratic Oath—“first, do no harm”—thereby undermining patient trust.

Physician-assisted suicide also hurts families by putting pressure on family members to take their own lives and no longer be a “burden,” and absolving family members of their traditional responsibility to care of their young, elderly, and disabled kin.

Ultimately, this disrespect for the dignity of human life poisons our entire culture. Instead of treating every human life as inherently valuable, some lives are set aside as categorically unworthy.

This is not just wrong, it’s dangerous. The social contagion of suicide is claiming more and more lives every year.

We cannot simultaneously give suicide prevention to some and suicide assistance to others. These mixed signals can only be bad news for those vulnerable populations most likely to be pressured to take their lives.

Only time will tell what the future holds for New Jersey after this fateful day. We still have time to change course and promote a culture of human dignity. But to do so, physician-assisted suicide must go.

Monica Burke is a research assistant in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Daily Signal.

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