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Two states turn back push for physician-assisted suicide

TERMINALLY ILL
Photographee.eu/Shutterstock
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But New Jersey becomes latest to allow the practice, and Oregon considers expansion.

Two states in the past week have seen the failure of attempts to pass legislation allowing physician-assisted suicide, one for the fifth time.

On Monday, the Public Health Committee of the Connecticut state legislature scuttled a bill allowing doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to terminally ill patients when it found that it did not have enough votes. Similar bills have likewise failed to get beyond committee hearings four other times since 2013.

State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a co-chair of the Public Health committee, said “strongly held” religious beliefs among lawmakers, coupled with concerns from people with disabilities, prevented the bill from advancing to the House floor, according to the Connecticut Mirror.

Even a change in position by the Connecticut State Medical Society could not help the bill to advance. The society decided to end its resistance to the legislation, instead adopting a position of “engaged neutrality,” meaning it would allow its doctors to decide whether they wanted to prescribe the lethal medication, the Mirror said.

“It fails every year because there is no way you can ever make this right,” said Peter Wolfgang, head of the Family Institute of Connecticut. “It is never right to license doctors to prescribe suicide as a treatment and to grant immunity to the people that help you kill yourself.”

In late March, the Maryland state Senate defeated an assisted suicide bill on a 23-23 tie vote. It was the third time it has failed to pass, but the bill’s sponsor hopes to use the close vote as a springboard for bringing it back next year, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Ahead of the vote, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori celebrated Mass at St. Mary’s Church in Annapolis, the state capital, and said in a homily: “The bill under consideration is regarded by many as a ‘Death With Dignity’ bill, but the death which this bill would allow for is anything but dignified.” With rising health care costs, it might lead to the government and insurance companies using physician-assisted suicide as a cost-effective alternative to life-saving measures or palliative care, he said, according to the National Catholic Reporter:

“This has already happened in states where physician-assisted suicide is legal,” Lori said, acknowledging those who support legalization would dispute that assertion. “In European countries where euthanasia has been legal for decades, it is no longer a question of a right to die, but it is now an obligation to die when one’s condition has become burdensome to the family or to the state-run medical system.”

In New Jersey, however, Gov. Phil Murphy plans to sign a physician-assisted suicide bill that passed the state legislature March 25. The bill allows adults with a prognosis of six months or less to live to get a prescription for life-ending medication, CNN reported. The state will join California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Hawaii, Montana and the District of Columbia in allowing physician-assisted suicide.

And legislators in Oregon are introducing measures to eliminate the requirement that a patient have six months or less to live in order to qualify for assisted-suicide, WBUR reported.

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