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Euthanasia DOA in New Jersey but gains new life elsewhere

Demonstrators hold placards which read "no to the euthanasia of elderly people, solidarity is urgent," in Paris. Associated Press/Photo by Michel Euler

Euthanasia DOA in New Jersey but gains new life elsewhere

The battle over euthanasia and assisted suicide is heating up both in the United States and abroad. Requests for assisted suicide in Washington state, where it is legal, increased 43 percent in 2013. Belgium legalized assisted suicide for children in February. And Canada’s federal justice minister may challenge the constitutionality of Quebec’s new euthanasia laws. Following in the footsteps of the same-sex marriage debate, will euthanasia become the next battleground for individual rights?

New Jersey—Knowing they lacked the votes, proponents of assisted suicide temporarily tabled a bill for its legalization, despite a scheduled vote Thursday. The Assembly’s “Aid in Dying” bill would allow patients given fewer than six months to live to obtain a lethal prescription. Opponents say the potential for abuse is glaring. “There is no ‘choice’ when … pressures come with a serious disability or illness,” said Ana Gomes, a family practitioner with the New Jersey Alliance Against Doctor-Prescribed Suicide. Gov. Chris Christie said he opposes assisted suicide and has trumpeted his pro-life record of late. He is known for using a “pro-life for the whole life” argument for issues like treatment for drug offenders, lauding an emergency overdose kit New Jersey police have used to save 40 lives since April. But euthanasia supporters aren’t giving up. Assemblyman John Burzichelli said he hopes to revive the bill after the legislature’s summer recess.

Wisconsin—The Democratic Party of Wisconsin endorsed assisted suicide in its 2014 platform. The largely unnoticed change adopted June 7 faced little fanfare or outcry. Party members now support an “individual’s right to choose death with dignity including physician‐assisted end‐of‐life.” Five states—Montana, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and New Mexico—now allow assisted suicide in some form.

England—What may look like a win for England’s pro-life movement is not so clear-cut. Wednesday’s ruling from the British Supreme Court on a challenge to the nation’s assisted suicide ban was unexpectedly far-reaching. Britain’s highest court did uphold the ban, but a majority of judges suggested Parliament should change the law. The ban, judges said, is likely “incompatible” with the European Convention on Human Rights enforced by the European Court of Human Rights. The court has never ruled on the merits of assisted suicide, but the Convention’s right to a private life and family life has been used to defend pro-suicide activists before. “It’s the strongest thing they could do” short of overturning the law, said Penney Lewis, a law professor at King’s College in London.

France—French courts have set themselves squarely on the side of euthanasia, but the European Court of Human Rights has tempered judicial enthusiasm. A French court Wednesday acquitted Nicolas Bonnemaison, a doctor accused of poisoning seven terminally ill patients. Relatives of some of Bonnemaison’s patients testified on his behalf, and his lawyers hope the ruling will lead to swift legislative change. Another French court ruled Tuesday a family could withhold food and hydration to a brain-damaged car accident victim. But in a rare late-night ruling Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights blocked the move at the request of his parents, whose lawyer argued he is not sick or suffering. Media are comparing the case to that of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who suffered brain damage in 1990 and died in 2005 when her husband won a protracted court battle to starve her to death. The European court will conduct a full review of the man’s case.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.


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