By Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor

New Jersey has become the eighth state in the nation to allow terminally ill patients to obtain medications to take their own lives. 

Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law April 12 the Aid in Dying bill, which allows adults who receive a terminal diagnosis to obtain self-administered medication to end their lives. A patient’s attending and consulting physicians must determine that the patient has a life expectancy of six months or less and is acting on his/her own free will. 

“I understand that the sponsors introduced the bill out of compassion for people who are approaching death. But the finest expression of compassion is loving care that reduces or eliminates physical pain, psychological distress, depression and hopelessness — not providing someone with lethal drugs to end their life,” said Patrick Brannigan, executive director for the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of New Jersey’s bishops.

“Medical science is called on to eradicate the illness from which we suffer — not to eradicate the patients who suffer the illness,” he said. 

The Aid in Dying bill, A1504/S1072, passed the state Legislature March 25. It goes against the Catholic Church’s fundamental teaching on the dignity of all human life.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., expressed deep regret on the legislation becoming law, reflecting on a letter he wrote to state legislators representing districts within in the Diocese of Trenton before the bill’s final vote in the state Assembly and Senate.

“Never before in the history of our country has the life of innocent and vulnerable human beings faced such jeopardy,” he wrote. “Never before in the history of our country have the ‘inalienable rights’ to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ of our citizenry, affirmed by our Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence, been subject to such denial by those responsible for their legal protection.

“Where will this new law lead? I shudder to imagine. What other consequences for human life will it directly and indirectly introduce? I dread to think,” he continued. “The practice of medicine purposefully seeks to eradicate illness. Physicians pledge an oath to ‘do no harm.’ Taking a life before natural death violates that vow and there is no turning back.”

Those opposed to the new law have long argued that physician-assisted suicide can allow insurance companies to deny life-saving medications in lieu of cheaper and quicker alternatives meant to end a life, cases of which have been reported in states where the law is in effect. They also cite unforeseen consequences, such as the abuse of power for those with disabilities who rely on caretakers and the message the practice sends young people and those with depression.

Proponents have argued that assisted suicide gives the dying a “death with dignity.” 

Assemblyman John Burzichelli and Sen. Nick Scutari were the primary sponsors of the legislation. The bill goes into effect Aug. 1.