Compiled from Staff Reports

A state Assembly bill that would allow patients to self-administer medications in order to end their lives was released out of the Appropriations Committee Oct. 6 by a vote of 8-2.  Bill A2451, known as the “Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act,” can now be voted on by the General Assembly. An identical bill (S2474) has been introduced in the Senate.

While the bill’s supporters claim that it would give patients the ability to end their lives “in a humane and dignified manner,” the legislation continues to spur strong opposition from a broad coalition of organizations and leaders, including the New Jersey Catholic bishops and other Catholic leaders.

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While the bishops have consistently underscored Church teaching on the sanctity of human life in opposing physician-assisted suicide, opponents of the bill have pointed to the threat that the proposed legislation presents to the terminally ill and the disabled, 

Five states currently have assisted-suicide laws on the books – Oregon, California, Montana, Washington and Vermont. Advocates say assisted-suicide laws give the terminally ill the right to die with dignity. Those opposed argue that the bill is a threat to patients with lingering illnesses because insurance companies could view them as a cost liability, and as such, deny individuals healthcare coverage, instead offering lower-cost, life-ending drugs.

“We oppose A2451 because physician-assisted suicide is a direct threat to anyone viewed as a significant cost liability to a healthcare provider,” Patrick Brannigan, executive director for the New Jersey Catholic Conference, testified Oct. 6 before legislators in Trenton. “The facts are clear – in states that passed assisted suicide bills, insurance companies have denied individuals healthcare coverage but offered them low-cost drugs to end their life.”

In his testimony, Brannigan cited numerous examples, such as the case of Sarah Barton, whose grandmother was pressured by healthcare official to take end-of-life medications after simply suffering a fall, and that of Oregon resident Randy Stroup, who was denied accesses to chemotherapy for prostate cancer but offered doctor-assisted suicide.

Stroup was given two to four months to live, but went on to live for more than a year. His case, in addition to that of Bernie Ernst of Toms River, who was told in 1992 he only had months to live after a work-related injury but is still alive today, provide ample justification to defeat the bill now moving through the state Legislature, Brannigan argued.

“A six-month prognosis for a terminal illness is not always accurate,” Brannigan said.

Bill A2451 was introduced in the state Legislature by Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-3) earlier this year. Its companion bill, S2474, was introduced in August by Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-22).

“Aid in dying is about alleviating suffering and empowering those who are terminally ill to make their own health care decisions at the end of life,” Scutari was quoted as saying upon introducing the bill to the Senate. 

Those wishing to contact their state legislators on this issue can visit the Catholic Advocacy Network.