By Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor

Pro-life advocates were dealt a setback Feb. 7 as legislation that would allow terminally ill adults to end their lives advanced in the state Legislature.

By a vote of 6-3, the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee voted in favor of the “Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Act” (S1072/A1504). It now goes to the Senate Budget Committee.

In testifying before the committee, Patrick R. Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, said, “We oppose physician-assisted suicide because in an era of cost control, patients with lingering illnesses may be branded as an economic liability, and decisions to encourage death could be driven by cost."

Brannigan stressed, “The facts are clear – in states that passed assisted suicide laws, insurance companies have denied individuals health care coverage but offered them low-cost drugs to end their life.”

He went on to cite three cases in which cancer patients were denied insurance coverage but offered coverage for the medication needed to end their lives: Stephanie Packer of California, Randy Stroup of Oregon and Barbara Wagner of Oregon.

“Medical science is called to eradicate the illnesses from which we suffer, not to eradicate the patients who suffer the illnesses,” Brannigan testified. “Our duty is to assist those who are dying – not kill them.

“The tools to alleviate pain and to bring physical, psychological and spiritual comfort to terminally ill patients are available today more than ever before,” he continued. “As a society, we need to increase our efforts to inform both the medical community and the general public about the wonderful advances in palliative and hospice care.”

The bill, which goes against Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of all human life, would allow adults who receive a terminal diagnosis to obtain self-administered medication to end their lives. Advocates argue assisted suicide gives the terminally ill a “death with dignity.” Opponents cite unforeseen consequences, including abuse of power when it comes to those with disabilities, the message it sends to young people and those struggling with depression and the ability of insurance companies to deny life-saving medications in exchange for those that would take a life.

The hearing, which was only 90-minutes long, included testimonies from advocates and opponents alike. However, Marie Tasy, executive director for New Jersey Right to Life, expressed frustration that the many doctors, nurses and disability advocates on hand did not get a chance to speak.

“We urge our legislators to listen to opponents’ compelling testimony yesterday and vote no on this bill to protect our most vulnerable citizens, who will most certainly be harmed if this bill becomes law,” she said. “We will continue to contact our senators and Assembly members to explain why this is a dangerous bill for the citizens of New Jersey and urge them to oppose it.” 

Brannigan said the NJCC – the public policy arm of the state’s bishops – had nearly 900 emails sent to legislators through the organization’s “Faith in Action” link.

“People should continue to contact legislators,” he urged.