Last Thursday, New Jersey Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli (pictured) introduced the “New Jersey Death with Dignity Act,” which would allow physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication to assist patients in suicide. Pending legislative vote, the Assembly Bill A3328 will appear as a ballot question in the next election.
Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Montana are also considering assisted suicide bills this term. Currently, only Oregon and Washington legally allow physician-assisted suicide. New Jersey’s “Death with Dignity Act” is similar to those of Oregon and Washington and would allow physicians to prescribe lethal drugs when patients are determined to have less than six months to live.
Such legislation provides a financial incentive for patients to give up hope of recovery – patients who may have even been wrongfully diagnosed.
According to disability rights leader Marilyn Golden, “mixing assisted suicide and profit-driven managed health care is a dangerous mistake. A lethal prescription costs about $300, often much cheaper than treatment regimens.”
The Oregon Health Plan, for example, provides for assisted suicide, though it may not pay for chemotherapy.
Such a condition renders the conception of “Death with Dignity” laughable. Burzichelli’s act might be renamed “Death Cheaper Than Dignity.”
Doctors’ predictions of impending death are frequently, and fortunately, incorrect. Suicide can present a financially attractive alternative to lengthy treatment. And given the choice between life and death, the patient is inevitably influenced by the resulting financial burden on his or her family. Such realities mock the title of the “New Jersey Death with Dignity Act,” which merely paves the way for needless death, dictated by cost, at the expense of patients’ dignity.
By Shauna Segadelli, Law Student Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, MA