The New Jersey Death with Dignity Act (A3328/S2259) has little to do with discussing end-of-life care with our doctor, as those who are pushing to legalize assisted suicide would lead us to believe. Every day, doctors like me give end-of-life care information to their patients and their families, from hospice care choices to palliative care options.
The proposed physician assisted suicide legislation stipulates that doctors may prescribe lethal doses of drugs to patients who have less than six months to live. While we make the prognoses as best we can, using the most advanced technology, a prognosis is still just a highly informed guess.
Enormous pressure is levied against patients who believe they have but a few months more to live, when the reality could be much different.
Take, for example, the case of Oregonian Jeanette Hall, who was given less than a year to live after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Overcome with fear and despair about a disease she believed would render her too weak to function and a burden to her family, along with the overwhelming thought of medical costs, Jeanette asked her radiologist for physician assisted suicide. Fortunately for Jeanette, her radiologist believed his role was to cure her and to offer her hope, which he did. Thirteen years later, Jeannette is grateful for his advice and thankful that he did not believe the only way out for her was suicide.
Health care is already a very complex industry and it is becoming even more so. Health care is often made worse when the Legislature attempts to trump a physician’s expertise with political prescriptions that have no place in the medical community.
Discussing with a patient a potentially terminal prognosis is always difficult, and the decisions that must be made are varied and complex. The last thing patients need is state-sanctioned pressure that implicitly informs them they are no longer of value. Rather, effective management tools such as hospice and better palliative care can offer real options that don’t carry hidden threats.
The bill is dangerous. Under A3328/S2259, once the lethal dose is prescribed, there is no requirement for medical oversight or psychological screening to eliminate the possibility that a patient is acting out of depression or dementia. The administration of the drugs is left to the patient or possibly a family member or friend, leaving the door wide open for abuse. Without accountability, the pressure on the patient is sharply accentuated. What if that patient is feeling pressure from the family to ask for that lethal dose of medication? Or worse yet, what if the lethal drugs are used for something more nefarious?
The bill is opposed by members of both political parties, the medical community as a whole, and various disability rights groups.
Gov. Christie also announced his opposition to the legislation. As a physician, I appreciate his clarity on this issue. It is a physician’s duty to put his or her patient’s well-being first, and assisted suicide turns that relationship on its head. There is no “choice” when implicit and explicit pressures come with a serious disability or illness. This legislation is a dangerous mix of assisted suicide as medicine and political expediency. It’s a proposal that New Jersey can do without.
LifeNews Note: Ana P. Gomes, D.O., is a family practitioner who practices medicine at Kaleidoscope Medical Associates in Phillipsburg. She is affiliated with the New Jersey Alliance Against Doctor-Prescribed Suicide.