Assisted-Suicide Bill Advances in New Jersey

The New Jersey Senate Legislative Committee voted 6-3 on Feb. 7 to advance bill.

New Jersey State Capitol in Trenton
New Jersey State Capitol in Trenton (photo: Paul Brady Photography / Shutterstock)

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey may become the next state to approve of physician-assisted suicide after the president of the state’s Senate replaced two members of a committee who had previously voted against a bill that would have legalized it in the state.

The New Jersey Senate Legislative Committee voted 6-3 on Feb. 7 to advance a bill that would permit doctors to prescribe a lethal dose to patients with terminal illnesses. Two people who voted on the bill — Senate President Sen. Stephen Sweeney, D-Cumberland, and Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, who co-sponsored the legislation — were not originally members of the committee.

Sweeney nominated himself and Scutari to replace Sens. Fred Madden, D-Gloucester, and Ronlad Rice, D-Essex, both of whom had previously voted against physician-assisted suicide in 2016. To become law, the bill must now clear the full assembly and Senate.

The Catholic Church is opposed to physician-assisted suicide, as well as all other forms of suicide.

Those opposed to assisted suicide point out that it has the potential for abuse and that many recipients of it are not actually terminally ill.

“Like other states that have confused liberty with license, New Jersey is considering a law that would promote physician-prescribed death. The proposal violates the sacred oath of the medical profession, recognized even by pre-Christian cultures, to heal the sick and preserve life,” Edward Furton, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA.

Furton explained to CNA that the majority of patients who pursue physician-assisted suicide do so due to fears of “being a burden on others” or because they “suffer from despair, loneliness or feelings of unwantedness.”

“Very few choose this route because of severe pain,” he told CNA. While Furton agreed that those in severe pain should be given assistance and treatment, he said that medicine should not “abandon them to hopelessness” and promote the idea of suicide.

“Physicians should have no part in this reversal of the traditional aims of their profession, preserving health and life,” he added.

The New Jersey law would be limited to adults. Two physicians would have to agree that the patient seeking to die has less than six months to live. In order to receive the lethal dose, the patient would have to submit three requests (with one in writing) to a doctor. The written request must be witnessed by two people, and one of the two people cannot be a family member, physician or someone who is named as a beneficiary of the patient.

The patient would then have to self-administer the medication.

Six states, as well as the District of Columbia, have approved physician-assisted suicide, and its status is unclear in the state of Montana. Oregon was the first state to pass an assisted-suicide law, doing so in 1994. Washington followed suit in 2008.

Several states, including Massachusetts, have attempted and failed to pass physician-assisted suicide measures either by referendum or through the legislative process.

Since the District of Columbia approved physician-assisted suicide in 2017, there have been no reported cases of terminally ill patients utilizing the law.