Monday, August 3, 2020

New Jersey reports 12 assisted suicide deaths in its first 5 months.

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The New Jersey assisted suicide act came into effect on August 1, 2019 after being signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy on April 12.

An injunction was granted on August 14 in a case challenging the assisted suicide act, and then the injunction was rescinded on August 27. The New Jersey assisted suicide report indicates that 12 people died by assisted suicide in the first five months of the law.

The report only provides basic data about the people who died. The report states that six men and six women died, that seven the people had cancer, ten of the twelve died at home, one died in a nursing home and one died in someone else’s home.

The report does not provide information about how many people were prescribed lethal drugs. There is no information, in the report, concerning why people asked for assisted suicide and no concerns about possible abuse of the law.

Similar to other assisted suicide laws, the data comes from the reports that are filed by the physicians who prescribed the lethal drugs. There is no independent or third-party involvement to ensure that the reports are accurate.

There is also no requirement that an independent witness be present at the death to ensure that the law was followed. No one will know if the lethal drugs were administered (euthanasia) rather than self-administered (assisted suicide). Euthanasia is a form of homicide since someone else administers the lethal drugs.

The New Jersey law requires doctors to declare assisted suicide deaths as a natural death. The law specifically states that the death: shall not constitute patient abuse or neglect, suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, euthanasia, or homicide under any law of this State.

The law clearly protects doctors who are willing to cause death, rather than protecting the person who is living with vulnerable conditions.

Even though assisted suicide has been legal in New Jersey for more than a year, the New Jersey Medical Association, disability rights groups, and others, oppose the law. People who oppose assisted suicide are hoping that the upcoming election results in a change.

The Hawaii assisted suicide report was also released. Assisted suicide came into effect in Hawaii on January 1, 2019 with this report representing the first full year of deaths.

The 2019 Hawaii report reported that 15 people died by assisted suicide and 30 people were prescribed lethal drugs. (Link to article on the Hawaii report).

The Hawaii report was completed on July 1 and included preliminary data for 2020 indicating that from January 1 to June 26, 2020, 24 people were prescribed lethal drugs and 13 people died by assisted suicide.

In the final paragraph of the report the Hawaii Department of Health recommends the following changes to the assisted suicide law:
  1. Waiver of any waiting periods if the attending provider and consulting provider agree that patient death is likely prior to the end of the waiting periods.
  2. Given access to health care providers is limited, the DOH recommends authorizing advance practice registered nurses to serve as attending providers for patients seeking medical aid in dying. 
After only one year of assisted suicide in Hawaii, the Department of Health is advocating for the removal of waiting periods and allowing nurses to prescribe lethal drugs for assisted suicide.

The Hawaii Department of Health recommendations follow the direction of the assisted suicide lobby who are lobbying to remove safeguards. On January 1, 2019, the assisted suicide lobby stated that these laws contain too many safeguards. In 2019, the Oregon legislature expanded the assisted suicide law by waiving the 15 day waiting period.

Assisted suicide deaths are rising.

The California assisted suicide report recently released indicating a 20% increase with 405 assisted suicide deaths in 2019. (Link to article on the report).

The California report indicates that the ingestion status was unknown for 82 people who were prescribed lethal drugs and died. When the ingestion status is unknown, the person may have died by assisted suicide, but no physician report was filed.

Last year a nurse plead not guilty to murder, in a California court, based on allegedly injecting her friend with assisted suicide drugs. The case shows how lethal drugs can be used to kill someone outside of the law.

The 2019 Oregon assisted suicide report also indicated an increase in assisted suicide deaths, with 188 in 2019. (Link to article on the report).

Similar to the California report, the Oregon report indicates that the ingestion status was unknown for 58 people who were prescribed lethal assisted suicide drugs and died. Some of these deaths may have been an assisted suicide but no physician report was filed.

Assisted suicide is sold to the public as a form of freedom, choice and autonomy, while in reality, these laws give physicians the right in law to assist the death of their patients. There is no actual oversight of the law and even when a physician does not report the death, there is no mechanism to ensure that the law is being followed. 

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