Trenton, New Jersey – An Assembly panel in New Jersey has approved a measure that would place the issue of assisted suicide on the state ballot.
The 7-2 vote by the Health and Senior Services Committee means that the bill, entitled the Death With Dignity Act, will now pass on to the House and Senate. If approved, the initiative would be placed on the 2014 ballot for a vote by the people.
The Death With Dignity Act would allow citizens that have been diagnosed as being terminally ill with six months or less to live to end their lives through a lethal dose of medication. The individuals would be required to have two doctors certify that their illness is terminal, and would be given an opportunity to recant their death wish before being given the prescription.
The bill is the joint effort of Democratic Assemblymen John Burzichelli and Tim Eustace. Burzichelli recently explained to reporters why he introduced the measure.
“This discussion is about revisiting a statue last looked at in 1978 that never took into account an individual’s right to control their body and their circumstances,” he said. “Medicine, palliative care and hospice services have changed dramatically since then. People faced with circumstances like a terminal illness, with less than six months to live, should have the right to control their circumstances and their fate in a way suited to them, their conscience and their faith. This is about freedom of choice and control of one’s body.”
During a public hearing over the Death With Dignity Act, Burzichelli’s sister-in-law Claudia testified that she wished assisted suicide had been available for a number of members of her family. She cited how her father had committed suicide over his diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, diabetes and other ailments.
However, many others also testified as to why the Death With Dignity Act should be opposed. A number of doctors told the panel that sometimes diagnoses can be wrong, and sometimes patients find help even in the most dire circumstances and end up living for many more years.
“By no means does terminal mean terminal,” testified Ana Gomes, a Phillipsburg doctor who admitted that she has seen a number of patients be incorrectly diagnosed by others. “We still get it wrong.”
Dr. Joseph Fennelly, chairman of the bioethics committee of the Medical Society of New Jersey, stated that the bill is problematic because it does not sufficiently identify what terminally ill means, and it does not require that individuals notify their families of their intent to take their lives.
“What we need to concentrate on is improving end-of-life care. We shouldn’t be looking to have people kill themselves,” commented New Jersey Right to Life director Marie Tasy to reporters. “Compassionate care is not killing somebody. It’s providing proper medical care that they need at the end of their lives.”
A similar law was also introduced in the Connecticut legislature last week, and as previously reported, the Vermont Senate Committee unanimously approved legislation the week prior to that.