September 27, 2012 Print

New Jersey Legislature Introduces Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill

by Bethany Monk

A New Jersey lawmaker proposed a bill Monday that would let doctors legally prescribe lethal doses of medication to help patients end their lives.

State Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) proposed A3328, the New Jersey Death With Dignity Act, which would allow doctors to issue deadly drugs to patients who’ve been told they have less than six months to live.

New Jersey Family Policy Council President Len Deo said the organization is “very much opposed” to the legislation.

“We believe that life should run its course,” he told CitizenLink. “As our country struggles with the culture of death verses the culture of life, these are inevitable the outcomes we will see in public policy.”

If passed, patients seeking assisted suicide would be able to verbally request a prescription from doctors. Within the next 15 days, they also would need to submit a verbal and written request, signed by two witnesses. The patient would retain the right to change his or her mind, but if he or she chooses to proceed, a second doctor would need to certify the diagnosis and confirm the patient is acting willingly.

Doctors would be required to refer patients with “impaired judgment” to counseling; these individuals would not be eligible for the life-ending drugs.

The New Jersey law would be modeled after laws in Oregon and Washington, where doctors may prescribe drugs to help terminally ill people commit suicide. Oregon enacted its law in 1997; Washington’s law went into effect in 2009. In Montana, physician-assisted suicide has been permitted on a case-by-case basis decided by courts since 2009.

Since the 1990s, residents of California, Maine and Michigan have voted down physician-assisted suicide bills. Voters in Massachusetts will see a similar measure on their ballots in November.

If the bill passes in New Jersey, it would need voter approval to be enacted. 

Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, told NJ.com the bill is not actually about “dignity” or “choice.”

“The legislation would enable people to pressure others to an early death or even cause early death,” Brannigan said. “The act may also encourage patients with years left to live to give up hope. The bishops of New Jersey strongly oppose any direct, intentional or purposeful taking of a human life.”

Carrie Gordon Earll, CitizenLink’s senior director of Issues Analysis, said those facing terminal illness deserve better than assisted suicide.

“We should meet their needs through pain and symptom management,” she said, “not shove them off the ledge by sending the message that their lives are not worth living.”

Read “Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.”

Read “What the Bible says about the End of Life.”