In the aftermath of the New Jersey Health and Senior Services Committee hearing on assisted suicide, the public debate has continued in the press. One example is George Amick’s column in favor of legalization.
Amick acknowledged that the opposition includes people with disabilities:
Groups representing Catholics, medical practitioners and people with disabilities were on hand to attack the measure as “assisted suicide” and “an open invitation to patient abuse” that lacks safeguards against the possibility that applicants are depressed or have been misdiagnosed or coerced. Opposition witnesses included individuals with sever disabilities, some in wheelchairs, who testified that they found their lives well worth living.
Amick also reported another interesting point for the disability community, specifically that the bill’s lead sponsor decided to change the name of the bill:
No adjustment is too minor for Burzichelli to consider.
For example, he asked the committee to change the bill’s title from “The Death With Dignity Act” — as Oregon, Washington and Vermont call their laws — to “The Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act.”
“I don’t want to suggest that the only way to have a dignified death is to ingest a prescription,” he explained. “That certainly isn’t the case.”
Not to mention the fact that “aid in dying” and similarly vague terms poll so much better than “assisted suicide.” Amick’s piece proceeds to carry the proponents’ party line about the bill’s supposed safeguards.
In response, John Kelly’s letter published this weekend sheds light and exposes the profound weaknesses of the bill’s safeguards:
George Amick’s column “Bill would allow terminally ill patients to die in humane, dignified manner” (June 9) ignores the many dangers of legalized assisted suicide.
Assisted suicide makes for a deadly mix with our profit-driven healthcare system. With a lethal prescription costing a mere few hundred dollars, assisted suicide will immediately become the cheapest “treatment. ” For example, Oregon Medicaid refused to cover prescribed chemotherapy for Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup, while offering the cheaper assisted suicide. Such distorted medical decision-making is one reason disability rights groups across the country oppose assisted suicide. Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire listened to our objections and rejected bills this year.
Assisted suicide endangers people who experience depression. Oregonian Michael Freeland easily received a prescription despite a 43-year history of severe depression and suicide attempts. Freeland’s prescribing doctor later said that he didn’t think a psychological consultation was “necessary.”
If Assemblyman Burzichelli is open to adjustments, he should look to Connecticut, where the legislature listened to disability rights advocates and rejected assisted suicide, then got to work with advocates to craft a pilot program for medical orders for life-sustaining treatment (MOLST). This program, which will protect everyone’s right both to receive and decline medical treatment, passed the Connecticut House unanimously and is now state law.
— John Kelly
The writer grew up in Middletown Township and is now New England regional director for the national disability rights group Not Dead Yet.
Please support and promote his excellent letter.