The New Jersey Assembly prepares to hear the Aid in Dying bill March 25. Hal Brown photo 
The New Jersey Assembly prepares to hear the Aid in Dying bill March 25. Hal Brown photo 

By Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor

A bill that would allow terminally ill residents to end their lives now goes to the New Jersey governor after passing both houses of the state Legislature March 25.

The Aid in Dying bill, A1504/S1072, passed the Assembly 41-33 and the Senate 21-16.

Moments before the vote, Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-26, addressed his colleagues, saying, “This bill will make New Jersey neither more compassionate nor more just.”

The bill, which goes against the Catholic Church’s fundamental 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.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., sent a letter Feb. 11 to all state legislators representing the four counties of the Diocese of Trenton – Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties – expressing his opposition to the bill as a “bishop, a priest, a man of faith ...  but also as a human being and a son.” Bishop O’Connell told legislators that “never again will your responsibility be greater or your decision more important.  The letter was published across diocesan media, sent to the secular media and was the subject of Bishop O’Connell’s monthly radio program, “The Shepherd’s Voice,” on Domestic Church Media. 

Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-3, primary sponsor of the bill in the Assembly, said the legislation only affects those wanting to take part in physician-assisted suicide. For those opposed, “Nothing changes for you.”

“That’s not true,” murmured Dr. Eddie Fleming, one of many opposed to the bill who attended the day’s Legislative sessions.

Fleming, a member of the Catholic Medical Association who practices in Clinton, said the bill could require all physicians to refer patients who wanted to end their lives to such a doctor.