New Jersey is on the verge of becoming the eighth state to allow doctors to give lethal medications to sick patients.
On Monday, both houses of the Democrat-controlled legislature approved bills to legalize physician-assisted suicide. The Assembly voted 41-33, while the state Senate voted 21-16 to approve the legislation, which grants doctors immunity for prescribing lethal doses of medication to patients who have received terminal diagnoses.
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Assisted suicide advocates celebrated the vote, as well as Democratic governor Phil Murphy's pledge to sign the bill into law. Murphy said in a statement following the vote that the bill would "make us a more dignified and empathetic state." Compassion & Choices, which has spearheaded campaigns to legalize the practice in statehouses across the country, said the law would provide comfort to terminally ill patients.
"His quick statement brought immediate peace of mind and tears of relief to the terminally ill residents in New Jersey who now know this peaceful option is imminent," CEO Kim Callinan said in a release.
Dr. T. Brian Callister, the governor-elect of Nevada's American College of Physicians, criticized the bill, saying that policymakers owe it to patients to consider the effects of approving suicide as a legitimate care option. The anecdotes of suffering trotted out by supporters, tragic as they are, should not be used "to mandate a flawed policy for all citizens," according to Callister. He has spoken openly in the past about his experiences dealing with insurers that pushed him to talk up assisted suicide with patients because they did not want to cover the costs of treating them. He fears that this practice may soon begin in New Jersey if the bill is signed into law.
"They do not understand that what they consider to be a ‘right to die' will devolve into a ‘duty to die' for the most vulnerable in our society—the elderly, the disabled, and the under-insured," Callister told the Washington Free Beacon.
New Jersey has been a target for assisted suicide supporters for years, but the bills had failed on multiple occasions. Monday's vote came a month after New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney advanced the bill out of committee by temporarily replacing two Democrats who had previously opposed assisted suicide with himself and another supporter.
Matt Valliere, executive director of the Patients' Rights Action Fund, said that state leaders had "failed its citizens" by championing assisted suicide. He said shady tactics used by lawmakers reflect the murky reality of the practice, which "leaves the door wide open for abuse and coercion."
"The vulnerable in society: the poor, terminally ill, and people with disabilities, will be the most negatively affected by assisted suicide," he said in a statement. "New Jersey ought to be investing in better care and support at the end of life, not enshrining this dangerous public policy into law."
Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, called the vote a "sad day for New Jersey."
"This bill corrupts the doctor patient relationship because it turns doctors who are trained to heal and save lives into agents of death," she said. "The bill is bad law filled with empty promises and riddled with loopholes that protects all parties except the patient. "
Compassion & Choices said that it has turned its attention from the bill's passage to ensure that it is smoothly implemented. The group has worked with state agencies and doctors to protect access to assisted suicide. New Jersey campaign manager Corinne Carey said the organization will reach out to regulators.
"We look forward to working with Murphy administration to facilitate the smooth and successful implementation of this compassionate law," she said in a statement. "We know our New Jersey supporters are counting on us to help make this law as accessible as possible."
Assisted suicide is legal in seven states, as well as Washington, D.C. That number could grow beyond New Jersey, as the Maryland Senate debates a bill that has already passed the House.