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Physician-Assisted Suicide: One State Passes, Five States Reject

Currently seven states allow the practice of physician-assisted suicide (PAS). They include California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Washington, DC also permits assisted suicide. This legislative season has seen several states tackle physician-assisted suicide legislation.

New Jersey became the eighth state to allow PAS when a bill passed the Assembly (41-33) and the Senate (21-16) with the bare minimum in each chamber. Democratic governor Phil Murphy signed it into law on April 12. Lawmakers had tried since 2012 to pass the legislation. Opponents of the proposed law argued that it hurts those who are most vulnerable and that the state should instead work to improve its health care system. Matt Valliere, executive director of the Patients Rights Action Fund, who opposed the measure, said, “New Jerseyans are now at the risk of deadly harm through mistakes, coercion, and abuse.”

In early March, legislation was introduced in the Minnesota Senate that would legalize PAS. A companion bill was introduced the prior week in the House. Both languished in their respective committees without hearings. In 2016, a similar bill was pulled from consideration due to lack of sufficient votes to pass.

In March, legislation that would have legalized PAS in New Mexico was first amended and then tabled in the House due to a lack of votes to pass the bill.

In mid-March, an Arkansas assisted suicide bill died in committee.

In late March, Maryland rejected assisted suicide when a bill that passed the House of Delegates (74-66) died in the Senate with a tie vote of 23-23. Dr. T. Brian Callister of the American College of Physicians opposed the bill based in part on his experience with health insurance companies in Oregon and California that attempt to push vulnerable patients into choosing suicide by lethal drugs.

In early April, the Connecticut Legislature defeated a bill that would have legalized PAS. Supporters didn’t have enough votes to get a vote in a committee. Hospice physician Dr. Joseph Andrews, Jr. opposed the law saying, “Once the door is opened here, it will open wider and wider. This explains the extraordinary fear and anxiety among people with progressive, chronic, non-fatal illnesses. They wisely fear the creeping growth of assisted dying and are acutely aware that politicians and their physician enablers will start ‘quality of life’ discussions which may result in curtailed access to ‘futile care.’”

In late April, the Nevada Legislature defeated a bill that would have legalized PAS. Nevada Right to Life Director Melissa Clement reported that the state senate adjourned without approving the bill. University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine physician Dr. Kirk Bronander, an opponent of PAS, used Oregon statistics and practices to warn of physician errors with diagnosis and predicting time of death, potential for abuses, and the very low (3.8 percent) of patients who received psychiatric evaluations.

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