New Jersey moves closer to joining states that allow medically assisted suicide

Source: North Jersey.com

Terminally ill patients in New Jersey may soon be able to legally end their own lives with medical help as top Democratic lawmakers are backing the latest attempt to turn an emotionally charged proposal into law. Lawmakers still have a weighty decision ahead of them, as Thursday’s testimony on the bill showcased the passions on both sides of the debate.

The New Jersey measure, patterned after a law passed in Oregon in 1997, would allow a terminally ill, mentally competent, adult resident of New Jersey to request and use a prescription for lethal medication.

Two physicians would be required to attest that the person had less than six months to live. The patient would have to ask for the medication three times — twice orally and once in writing — before receiving it. The written request would have to be witnessed by two people, including one who is not a family member, a beneficiary of the patient’s will or the attending physician.

The patient would then be required to self-administer the medicine, if he or she decides to take it at all.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said he is “very close” to having enough votes to pass the bill in the full Senate and that he personally supports the measure, S-1072/A-1504, based on an excruciating experience witnessing the death of a family member.

Opponents argue that medically assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with doctors’ charge to “do no harm” and worry that such a policy could be a slippery slope to euthanasia, where doctors themselves end patients’ lives.

In the Statehouse on Thursday, supporters and opponents alike told wrenching stories about making end-of-life decisions with loved ones and how the availability of medically assisted suicide could have impacted that process.

The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizen Committee on Thursday voted 6-3 to approve the measure. Two of the yes votes came from Sweeney and Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, who were temporary replacements on the committee for two senators who voted against an earlier version of the bill. An Assembly committee approved the measure in March.

The bill must now be passed by the full Senate and Assembly before heading to the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy for final approval or a potential veto. Murphy, a Democrat, has not weighed in on the proposal, and a spokeswoman for the governor declined to comment.

New Jersey residents have previously been receptive to such a measure. According to a 2015 Rutgers-Eagleton poll, 63 percent of residents supported legislation to “allow terminally ill patients to obtain a prescription to end their lives,” while 29 percent were opposed.

Seven states and the District of Columbia currently allow what is variously referred to as “aid in dying” or “physician-assisted suicide.”

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