From Catholic News Service and Staff Reports
TRENTON -- The state of New Jersey is "now on the road" to legalizing physician-assisted suicide, but "it is an option and a choice that we should never make," said Trenton Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.
STATEMENT FROM BISHOP DAVID M. O'CONNELL, C.M., ON THE PASSAGE OF THE NEW JERSEY AID IN DYING FOR THE TERMINALLY ILL ACT. CLICK HERE TO READ.
He made the comment in a statement released Nov. 13, the day the New Jersey Assembly passed the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, A2270, with a 41-31 vote. The measure now goes to the state Senate for consideration.
Gov. Chris Christie has previously stated he opposes efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide.
Bishop O'Connell described a "slow but steady erosion" in U.S. society "of the conviction that all human life is sacred and worth preserving at every moment from conception through natural death."
"I call upon all Catholics within the Diocese of Trenton, indeed, upon all people of good will," he continued, "to recommit themselves to the belief that God is the only Creator and source of all human life and that, therefore, God alone has the right to determine its natural end."
The bill "permits a qualified terminally ill patient to self-administer medication to end life in humane and dignified manner." A person who wants to obtain lethal medication must have two doctors confirm he or she has no more than six months to live. Both doctors also have to verify the person is mentally able to make independent and rational decisions.
Terminal disease is defined in the bill as "an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, result in a patient's death."
The terminally ill patient must first request the lethal dose from his or her doctor verbally and then 15 days later put a second request in writing and have it signed by two witnesses. A doctor can then write the prescription for the patient, who decides when to take it.
The New Jersey Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops, asked Catholics before the Assembly vote to contact their representatives and urge them to vote against the measure. The conference has now asked Catholics to urge their senators to oppose the bill.
"Our duty is to assist those who are dying -- not kill them," it said.
Deacon Patrick Brannigan, NJCC executive director, noted that A2270 would not likely be voted upon in the state Senate until after the new year. If passed in the Senate, the bill would then have to be signed by Gov. Christie, who has publicly stated in the past that he would veto such a bill.
Introduced in the Assembly by Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) in September 2012 as A3328 “New Jersey Death with Dignity Act,” the bill never came to the floor for a vote. Reintroduced under the current title earlier this year, the bill and a similar Senate bill, S382, is sponsored by Senators Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Donald Norcross (D-Camden), according to www.nj.com.
Calling the passing of the bill disheartening, Deacon Brannigan emphasized that six people testified on the State floor – three who were in favor of the passing and three who were opposed.
Of the three who were in favor, Deacon Brannigan expressed concern about their “misinterpretation” of the bill as being an alternative to palliative care or hospice services.
“And that’s not the case,” he said. “Unfortunately, this bill could have terrible unintended consequences,” he said.
Citing an example of the “serious flaws” connected to the bill and the implications of New Jersey’s endorsement of suicide, Deacon Brannigan said, “With much success, society works to reduce the incidence of suicide, especially among teens, police officers and military personnel. Unfortunately, we often fail to prevent the vulnerable from taking their own life.”
Bishop O'Connell said that God is "the thread that ties every moment, every instance of that journey together from beginning to end. Laws do not alter that reality, try as they might. Laws should not interrupt that continuum, try as they do."
"Human life is about joys and sorrows, good times and bad, health and sickness, love and loneliness, abundance and sacrifice, time and eternity and every human experience in between: yesterday, today and forever," the Bishop said in his statement. "Everyone who lives will eventually die. That's the way God made us and there are no exceptions and no escape."
He continued, "no one wants, seeks or enjoys sickness, suffering or the pain that touches every one of us in this journey through natural human life. But natural human life is, truly, a journey from its first moments in the womb through its last heartbeat and breath on earth."
Supporters of assisted suicide argue that allowing a person to end his or her life when faced with a terminal disease is "death with dignity," the Bishop noted, but said "the only real 'death with dignity" is the one that follows a full 'life with dignity' as God our Creator has designed and intends it to be, with all its natural, God-given human moments.
"Anything else is a rejection of God our Creator as Creator and an affront to the human nature God has implanted within us, one and all," he added. “The so-called "Death with Dignity Act" -- physician or ‘anybody else’ assisted suicide -- is another tragic example of human hubris, re-creating God in our own image; imposing our own limits upon God's law and will and wisdom; exhausting God's otherwise inexhaustible mystery and merciful companionship in our journey through the natural, fully human life God alone can give … it is an option and a choice that we should never make.”
A statement by the New Jersey Alliance Against Doctor-Prescribed Suicide, to which the NJCC belongs, said, “We are saddened and disappointed at the passage of assisted suicide bill A2270 by the New Jersey Assembly.”
“Instead of increasing access to quality palliative care for the residents of New Jersey, the Assembly chose to pass a bill that can place the most vulnerable in our society -- the sick, elderly and those living with disabilities -- at significant risk. We believe the dangers associated with this bill are far too many to ignore,” the statement read.
Reiterating Brannigan’s comments, Sister of Charity Patricia Codey, president of Catholic HealthCare Partnership of New Jersey, said, "Throughout the State of NJ, we have superb palliative care and hospice programs available. The compassionate choice is to continue to provide and expand end-of-life care that considers the whole person -- mind, body and spirit -- and to support each person's fullness as one who is loved. Allowing physician assisted suicide is dangerous public policy for our society."
Physician-assisted suicide is legal in Washington state, Oregon and Vermont.
The New Jersey Assembly's passage of the bill "represents another instance of society turning its back on the medically vulnerable who are at risk because they are either depressed or worried about what their future holds," said Burke Balch, director of National Right to Life's Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics.
"Contrary to what we're told by assisted suicide advocates, these laws do not offer a patient 'dignity,' but only abandonment from health care workers and family who are supposed to be caring for patients and loved ones," he said.
"The 'right to die' rapidly becomes a 'duty to die,'" Balch added.
For more information and to sign a petition against physician assisted suicide visit http://noassistedsuicidenj.org.
Monitor freelancer David Kilby contributed to this story.