Physician-assisted suicide up for debate again in NJ
TRENTON — State legislators are again looking at changing New Jersey law to allow terminally ill patients deemed by doctors to have less than six months to live to obtain a prescription for medication that, if taken, would end their lives.
Six states and Washington, D.C., now allow physician-assisted suicide. The first was Oregon, where nearly 1,300 terminally ill people have intentionally ended their lives by taking lethal medications in the last 20 years.
“Since the law was passed in Oregon, more people have not died. But fewer people have suffered,” said David Grube, a retired family physician from Oregon who testified Monday in Trenton to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
Other doctors and legal experts called the proposal bad medicine and bad ethics.
“Assisted suicide is not a medical procedure in New Jersey. It is a crime,” said Temple University professor emeritus Steven Mikochik of the National Catholic Partnership.
Hospice triage nurse Patricia Staley says the change would be harmful to the dying, their families and the medical community.
“There is no need to legally burden the doctors and nurses who have been legally trained to do no harm,” Staley said.
Retired nurse Laurie Wilcox, of Clark, said she has always believed that terminally ill patients should decide if they want lethal prescriptions to end their lives – but now that rheumatoid arthritis is attacking her lungs, it’s personal.
“And there’s nothing more personal and vital to my core set of beliefs and principles than the ability to choose how and when I’d like to die at the end,” Wilcox said.
Under the bill, terminally ill people need to make multiple requests, more than two weeks apart, and have at least two witnesses who attest the request is voluntary. Two doctors would have to agree with the prognosis that a patient likely has less than six months to live.
“Whatever decision a person makes at the time that their life is concluding is their choice and is their dignity,” said the bill's lead sponsor, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester.
The bill was passed by the Assembly in 2014 and 2016, only to hit a roadblock on the Senate floor. Burzichelli, who represents the same district as Senate President Stephen Sweeney, said “with a degree of confidence” it will make it to the governor this time.
Both times the Assembly passed the earlier bill, it did so with the bare minimum number of votes needed for passage, 41.
Monday’s hearing on the bill, A1504, took nearly three and half hours. The bill was advanced to the full Assembly in a party-line vote, with five Democrats in favor and two opposed.