Patrick Brannigan, executive director for the New Jersey Catholic Conference, speaks with those in the medical community who are opposed to the “Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Act” as they gather Oct. 20, 2016, at the Trenton Statehouse. The legislation will likely be up for a vote Oct. 29. Joe Moore photo

Patrick Brannigan, executive director for the New Jersey Catholic Conference, speaks with those in the medical community who are opposed to the “Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Act” as they gather Oct. 20, 2016, at the Trenton Statehouse. The legislation will likely be up for a vote Oct. 29. Joe Moore photo

By EmmaLee Italia | Contributing Editor

Physician-assisted suicide has been considered by the state Legislature without passing for more than six years. Now, with the legislation likely to be brought to a vote soon, there may be enough votes necessary to get it passed.

The “Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Act” (A1504) is expected to be up for a vote Oct. 29 in the Assembly. The state Senate could move an identical bill (S1072) forward if the Assembly bill passes.

The bill would allow terminally ill adults of sound mind to obtain drugs they could take to hasten their demise. If passed, the bill could be on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk before end of year.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, opposes the bill for various reasons, including the potential for abuse and the message it sends to the suffering.

“Physician-assisted suicide is a direct threat to anyone viewed as a significant cost liability to a health care provider,” said Patrick Brannigan, NJCC executive director. “The bill would allow the death certificate to list the cause of death as the underlying terminal disease … that misstatement on a legal document is the filing of a fraudulent report … [and] if we pass a law that says it is OK to end your life if you have pain – physical or psychological – what would we be telling our youth [and military] who are troubled?”

On Oct. 1, Oregon-based group Compassion and Choices launched a $1 million sustained digital video ad campaign featuring terminally ill advocates and their loved ones urging New Jersey lawmakers to pass the bill.

Meanwhile the bill sponsor, Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli (D-Gloucester / Salem / Cumberland), says there are sufficient votes to pass the bill .

“I’m confident that the votes are not only in the Assembly, but now there are sufficient votes in the Senate – so the ability to get this to governor’s desk is very high,” Assemblyman Burzichelli said in a Sept. 29 interview with KYW 1060 AM News Radio reporter David Madden.

This, Brannigan suggested, makes it important for people to contact their representatives immediately and ask them to vote “no.”

“Legislators always listen to their constituents,” Brannigan said. “If they do not hear from people opposing the bill, they might think their constituents support an issue.”

The goal of medical science, Brannigan underscored, is to eradicate illnesses, not the patients who suffer from them.

“Our duty is to assist those who are suffering, not kill them,” Brannigan said. “If medical doctors were to use their skills to help people kill themselves, they would be violating their sacred oath.”

He noted the advances made in pain management through palliative and hospice care, saying the efforts should instead be focused on the improvement and awareness of these options.

“In 2014, the state of New Jersey established the New Jersey Advisory Council on End-of-Life Care with a mandate to submit a report with recommendations on end-of-life care to the governor and the Legislature,” Brannigan continued. “I urge the Legislature to work with the New Jersey Advisory Council on End-of-Life Care rather than passing A1504.”