By Stephen P. Hayford
Thankfully, physician-assisted suicide has not become legal in the State of New York. In fact, legislation that would allow some patients—specifically, terminally-ill persons whose physicians have informed them that they will likely pass away within six months—to obtain lethal drugs has not even received a vote in either house of the New York State Legislature.
In spite of this fact, some assisted-suicide advocates are already laying the groundwork for allowing non-terminally-ill persons to obtain lethal drugs.
A recent article in Kaiser Health News deals with the topic of senior citizens who “want the option to take ‘preemptive action’ before their health declines in their later years, particularly due to dementia.” Dena Davis, a professor of bioethics at Lehigh University, is pushing a new term to describe this “preemptive action”: “Rational suicide.” According to Davis, suicide may be a reasonable decision in some circumstances, and should not necessarily be viewed as an indication of psychological issues. One senior citizen quoted in the article asserted that she and her husband wanted to have “the freedom to determine how they die”; she added that “while she still has the ability, she wants to procure a lethal medication that would offer the option for a peaceful end in the future.” Legalizing this type of action would require a much more permissive assisted-suicide bill than the one that has been proposed here in New York.
If physician-assisted suicide becomes legal for one group of people, it will become increasingly difficult to make the argument that it should not be legal for other groups of people.