Death is always a topic that elicits discussions. To start with, New Jersey joins the other seven states in the US to pass death with dignity legislation. Death with dignity law comes from the notion that only the terminally ill individuals, not government, politicians, and religious leaders, among others, are allowed to make their end of life decision and how long they should continue with the suffering (Adam et al. 2016). The legislation only allows mentally competent adult residents of New Jersey who have terminally ill with confirmed prognosis to ask and receive a prescription to hasten their inevitable death. While it is believed to be helpful to individuals who might suffer from inevitable death, the law does not show the value for life. As a senior consultant with Acme Health Strategies, I will analyze public health, legal, ethical, and policy issues involved with this legislation.
The legal aspect of death with dignity
The legislation promotes the freedom of choice that one can make as they await their inevitable death. For those faced with such horrific news from a terminal illness, the State of New Jersey provides Death with Dignity Act as the best option. The legislature approved a bill that supported the elimination of the waiting period, which existed in the original act if an individual had some days from death (Hausdorff, 2019). New Jersey becomes the eight state to approve such an Act, enabling self-administered drugs that would end their life. The legislation stated further that only sound individual is sound is allowed to make the decision. The purpose of the legislation is meant to give an individual who has a terminal illness to make their decision to end their life with dignity.
The legislation provides strict guidelines than one must go through before making the decision. First, a person must have documentation that they are a legal resident of the state of New Jersey. The person must be 18 years and above, are sound mind and have a diagnosis of a terminal illness. Secondly, the prognosis of terminal illness must be made by a licensed, participating doctor. The guideline states that one must make a verbal request of their intentions to the doctor and later submit their request in writing signed by two witnesses (Quill, Back & Block, 2016). Third, the attending doctor must receive in writing a notice that the patient is capable of making the decision from a qualified mental health professional.
Public health implication
The main role of public health is to aid and prolong life. With the prevention of health issues, one can spend more of their years in good health. The idea in public health is to prolong one’s life, regardless of whether they have a terminal illness or not. In public health, health is a human right, and no one has a right to take it away. However, this view is being challenged with the introduction of death with dignity act. The legislation gives patients the option of choosing to end their life before the actual date (Quill, Back & Block, 2016). It tends to protect patients from emotional and physical pain by allowing them to seek aid. Although the act relieves patients of their pain, it seems the health workers take in the emotional pain. Therefore, the act puts health workers at a crossroad because they participate in ending a life indirectly by administering the medication.
With the law in place, a healthcare facility needs to develop new policies and regulations to manage death with dignity act. Different healthcare institutions especially faith-based are wondering on whether they should participate or not. For those healthcare facilities, opting to carry out the process should understand their role in the implementation of the act. First, the management of healthcare must ensure that doctors administering the prescription of ending life understands the provided guideline. The doctors must be reminded of the possible lawsuit if a single guideline is not adhered to as provided by the state law (Quill, Back & Block, 2016). Secondly, the doctors participating in the process should take care of their emotions even as they get involved indirectly. The healthcare faculty should enforce mandatory counseling for all healthcare participants involved in healthcare.
There is much to say regarding the ethical aspect of death with dignity act. Ethical arguments in support of the act outline the principle of respect for patient’s decisions as well as the wide doctor’s mandate to relieve suffering. The people supporting the law has a view that death with dignity is an act of compassion that respects the patient’s decision and meets the duty of non-abandonment (Alt et al. 2016). Most opponents claim that the healthcare provider’s most consistent ethical aspect is the promotion of care and comfort; hence they should not participate in ending a person’s life directly or indirectly. The act takes ground on the fact that a patient could be going through pain and suffering from a terminal illness that will kill them in some days. Based on this, it is believed that instead of experiencing prolonged suffering, it is ethical to allow the person to die peacefully.
Most of the people who seek death with dignity or physician-assisted suicide are often in hospice care (Quill, Back & Block, 2016). At this state, these people would see themselves as a burden the families and society. In this view, they see death with dignity as a way to relieve themselves as well as others from pain and burden. Notably, the act seems to focus more on one choosing to end their life than offering alternative options like proper care when suffering from a terminal illness. The law does not fend for alternative pain management areas to help the patient enjoy their last days on Earth.
Although the main role of death with dignity is to alleviate individual suffering from a terminal illness, it does not mean well for the value of life in the field of medicine. Death with dignity act alters the culture in healthcare operations. It appears to corrupt healthcare by allowing the tools supposed to aid in healing as techniques to be applied in ending people’s life. Similarly, death with dignity act threatens to destroy the patient-physician relationship since it reduces patients’ trust of healthcare providers and provider’s un-divided mandate to the life as well as the health of patients. In addition, an alternative to death with dignity would offer incentives for health insurance companies as well as other sectors to help in financing care. Physician-assisted suicide or death with dignity provides a cheap, and a faster means to die in a society of rising limited healthcare resources.
Adam, B., Gross, S., Nybo, J., & Sweeney, J. (2016). Death with Dignity.
Alt, M., Harper, N., Herndon, K., & Watkins, C. (2016). Death with Dignity.
Hausdorff, M. (2019). Understanding Assistance in Dying: Arguments in Favor of the End of Life Option Act. Culture, Society, and Praxis, 11(2), 4.
Quill, T. E., Back, A. L., & Block, S. D. (2016). Responding to patients requesting physician-assisted death: physician involvement at the very end of life. Jama, 315(3), 245-246.