Should NJ allow physician-assisted suicide? Lawmakers to decide
UPDATE: The full Assembly voted Thursday afternoon to pass the legislation by a 41-28 vote, with five voting to abstain. The bill heads next to a Senate committee.
TRENTON — The Assembly plans to vote Thursday on a thorny, somber moral issue: Should terminally ill patients be able to end their life when they choose with the help of their doctor?
The Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act would allow New Jerseyans with an irreversible illness and a life expectancy of less than six months to get a prescription from their doctor for the medication that can end their life. It sets up a timeline that includes multiple requests and witnesses.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, sees the legislative as an extension of palliative and hospice care and says lawmakers are striving to have a respectful discussion.
“We do not do this recklessly. This is not done with a blink of an eye,” Burzichelli said.
Four states currently allow physician-assisted suicide. The plan has been under consideration in New Jersey for four years. Two years it passed the Assembly with the bare minimum of 41 votes. Nine of the ‘yes’ votes were cast by people who are no longer in the Assembly.
The bill wasn’t voted on by the full Senate after passing last session in the Assembly.
Proponents for the disabled have lobbied hard against the bill. Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, one of four Republicans who voted for the bill in 2014, said she understands the “slippery slope” argument and that she doesn’t want to see the proposal applied to the disabled.
But after seeing eight relatives and friends die of cancer, including one who begged her to help her kill herself, Schepisi said better end-of-life options are needed.
“All I know is whether it’s better palliative care, whether or not it’s better hospice, whether or not it’s aid-in-dying, there’s got to be a better way than watching the people who I loved and cared about so much and seen how awfully they suffered in their final days,” Schepisi said.
Assemblyman John DiMaio, R-Warren, opposes the proposal. He, too, points to personal experience: This year, his mother-in-law rallied a few times when it appeared she would succumb to cancer, then lived at his home for a few months before finally dying in August.
“In that period of time, she could have said, ‘Ah, I’m gone.’ But during the summer there were many days she was at the pool, in the pool — living life,” DiMaio said.
“I would like to think that every day of life she had in the sun was very important,” he said. “I know that on Aug. 2, when my wife and I were at either side of the bed, and we held her hand as she passed away, God took her that day. And that was her time.”
Two weeks ago, when an Assembly panel advanced the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, three Democrats noted they are Catholics before voting for the bill. The church opposes physician-assisted suicide. Had all of them opposed the bill, it would have lacked the votes needed to advance.
“I’m a Catholic, and I have my opinion. But who am I to enforce my opinion on other people?” said Assemblywoman Marlene Caride, D-Bergen.
Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera, D-Gloucester, said she gave the issue a lot of thought, research and prayer.
“For me it comes down to one basic thing: You have to allow a person to have the right to choose. You have to allow them to do what is right for them,” Mosquera said. “And it is only between them and their God that the only decision can be made.”
“I’m also Catholic and believe very deeply in my religion and my God and the teachings of the Bible and what Jesus Christ tells us. But that’s me. And that’s not everybody,” said Assemblyman Joseph Lagana, D-Bergen. “And we all believe in different gods. Some believe in no gods. But ultimately we must remember we live in a country that prides itself on being a nation of laws, not of men, not of religion.”
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