California’s Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a “right to die” bill into law, legalizing doctor-assisted suicide in some circumstances involving terminal illness. The bill was inspired, at least in part, to the widely publicized saga of California resident Brittany Maynard, who had to move to Oregon to end her life on her own terms.
Commenting on California’s law, the New Jersey Star-Ledger called on the New Jersey Legislature and Governor Chris Christie to enact NJ’s own pending right-to-die bill. In Coming soon to Gov. Christie's desk: The right-to-die debate, the Star-Ledger quoted Brown and public opinion polls in making its case:
Gov. Jerry Brown's quandary was clear: "I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain," the former Jesuit seminarian wrote. "I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn't deny that right to others."
New Jersey's governor will likely be the next to face this moral dilemma. . .
The NJ bill has passed the state Assembly and will come up for a vote in the state Senate soon. As the Star-Ledger reports, NJ State Sen. Nick Scutari calls the vote “symbolic” because Christie is not likely to sign it. The Star-Ledger also noted a poll showing Jerseyans support assisted suicide by a margin of 63-29 percent.
I left these comments:
I agree with Governor Brown, as far as he goes. But I would be fully consistent. What about people living “in prolonged and excruciating pain?” Doesn’t every individual have a right to self-determination when it comes to the one inescapable fact that we all share; that our lives are finite?
I have in mind a Star-Ledger piece by Bob Braun, “For Freehold woman, paralyzed life became too much to bear.” Braun reported on the heart-wrenching story of a woman who came to just such prolonged and excruciating pain. Yet, she was cruelly forbidden by law to seek professional help in acting on her own rational judgement to end her life—a life she judged to be a fate worse than death; a living death. So she had to starve herself to death over an agonizing and unnecessary multi-month period. Talk about needless suffering. This young woman explained at length her reasons for her decision to end her own life. Who can claim the right to deny her the freedom to seek assistance from willing medical professionals for a peaceful end-of-life?
The “Aid in Dying” bill, or “New Jersey Death with Dignity Act”, falls short, in my view. It is limited only to people with a terminal illness. It should be based on the individual’s inalienable rights, rather than an undefinable “public welfare” or voter approval. Nonetheless, it is a step in the right direction. It should be put into law. Not because of polls. Not for symbolism. But because, if we value liberty, it’s the moral thing to do.
The Role of Rights in the Assisted Suicide Debate