The New Jersey Assembly will soon be voting on Bill A2451, known as “The Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act.”
Bill A2451 is supposed to give qualified terminally ill patients the option to freely choose to end their lives in a “humane and dignified manner.”
However, my DAWN colleagues and I are deeply concerned about the impact this legislation could have on people with disabilities. It poses a danger to them, as well as to all the ill and elderly people people of New Jersey.
These populations are extremely vulnerable to fears of being a burden to their families. People facing such concerns are more likely to think that suicide is their only option.
This is not mere speculation. Recent data from research conducted in Oregon has shown that over a third of those who request assistance to die do so because of “feelings of being a burden.”
Equally troubling is the finding that over 90 percent cited a “loss of autonomy” as a factor in the decision. A loss of autonomy could mean surrendering control of one’s life to a caregiver, which makes it almost impossible to determine whether the choice to end that life is freely made.
Let us not forget that the decision of whether or not to end life would be made in the midst of a broken health care system that puts profits before patients. Just by denying or delaying approval of needed treatments, insurance companies will be steering patients toward physician-assisted suicide, intentionally or not.
Even in a vacuum, the decision to end one’s life is difficult to make objectively. When a person first acquires a disability, they often feel like their life is over. It takes time, adequate resources, and a good support system to move on and realize it is still possible to have a full, happy and productive life. It would be a terrible tragedy if someone chose to die because of the initial shock of becoming a person with a disability, without having a chance to adapt.
In addition, terminal illness is not as cut-and-dried as TV and movies would generally have us believe. Diagnoses can be incorrect, and life expectancy predictions can be off by years. For example, when I was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy in 1988, my parents were told I wouldn’t survive past my early 20s. I’m currently 33 years old.
People with terminal illnesses, caregivers, doctors and insurance company employees have one thing in common: they are all human. They make mistakes. Let’s not risk making the mistake that can’t be unmade: ending the life of a person who has not made a free and informed choice to die.