New Jersey Assembly Passes Bill to Legalize Assisted Suicide, Gov. Christie Promises to Veto

State   Steven Ertelt   Nov 13, 2014   |   5:53PM    Washington, DC

The New Jersey Assembly today passed a bill to legalize assisted suicide and it will now send the measure to Governor Chris Christie, who has promised to veto it.

After impassioned speeches on both sides of the debate, the New Jersey Assembly passed the bill on a 41-31 vote. Since the legislation already had the approval of the state Senate, it now heads to the governor.

chrischristieJust days after Brittany Maynard’s assisted suicide launched a national debate on the ethics of the controversial practice, the New Jersey Assembly became the first state to attempt to join others which have approved it. Marie Tasy of New Jersey Right to Life of one of the leading pro-life campaigners to oppose the bill.

Earlier this year, Christie stated during a press conference that he is opposed to the assisted suicide bill that is sponsored by Assemblyman John Burzichelli.

Nancy Elliott, a member of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International Board spoke with Christie about his position and said, “Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with Governor Chris Christie from New Jersey.  I know that a lot of you are concerned about the Assisted Suicide bill that passed the Health Committee in New Jersey. He assured me vehemently that he has not changed his position on Assisted Suicide, that he would veto it if it came to his desk and that as long as he was the Governor of New Jersey this was not going to become law.

ACTION: Contact Governor Christie and urge a veto of the assisted suicide bill.

Oregon became the first state to allow assisted-suicide in 1997 and Washington state passed its own measure legalizing the practice and Vermont passed a bill legalizing it. The bill, also known as the New Jersey Death with Dignity Act, would give doctors the right to intentionally prescribe a lethal dose of a barbituate, for the purpose of suicide. The New Jersey assisted suicide bill is very similar to the Oregon assisted suicide Act.

In Oregon, depressed people have died by assisted suicide, and patients, who were denied medical treatment, were steered to assisted suicide by the state health plan. Oregon resident Jeanette Hall, who was terminally ill and wanted assisted suicide, is alive today because her doctor convinced her to try medical treatment.

Additionally, the Supreme Court of Montana interpreted its law to make “consent” of the victim a defense in cases of homicide. A lower court judge in New Mexico struck its existing protective law. The New Mexico case is currently being appealed.

Leading pro-life groups condemned the vote.

“Today’s vote 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, J.D., 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.”

Blach said advocates promote these dangerous laws, which are riddled with legal problems surrounding enforcement. In the states where doctor-prescribed suicide is legal and records are kept, most people seek suicide not because they are experiencing pain from illness, but because they feel like they are becoming a “burden” or losing autonomy. The “right to die” rapidly becomes a “duty to die.”

Meanwhile, Tasy of Ne Jersey Right to Life said legislators need to understand how the legislation is “riddled with loopholes and contradictions that place the lives of the very people it purports to empower at grave risk of abuse and coercion.” She submitted the following comments:

picassistedsuicide8bFor example, the legislation states that the process outlined in the bill should be entirely voluntary and even includes language  to hold persons accountable who coerce or exert undue influence on a patient to request medication; however, other sections in the bill leave ample room for abuse by relatives, friends, caregivers and the medical profession.

It includes in its definition of “capable,” “communication through persons familiar with the patient’s manner of communication if those persons are available” meaning that another person can communicate with physicians and caregivers relating to health care decisions under this act in addition to the patient.

Additionally, the legislation requires that two persons witness and sign a form that says the patient is capable and is acting voluntarily to sign the request.

As stated in the legislation, “at least one of the witnesses shall be a person who is not related to the patient by blood, marriage or adoption.”  This means that the second person can, in fact, be a person who is related to the patient by blood, marriage or adoption.  Conversely, but just as troubling, is the provision that one or both of these witnesses does not need to be “personally known” to the patient if the patient has provided proof of identity to the witness(es).

In another typical example of doublespeak that is pervasive throughout the legislation is a section that amends current NJ law which makes it a crime punishable by law to Aid Suicide. The proposed changes exempts “any action taken in accordance with the provisions of the Act.”

Further, it excludes all persons from “civil or criminal liability or professional disciplinary action for any action taken in compliance with the provisions of the bill, including person(s) who are present when a qualified terminally ill patient self-administers medication prescribed pursuant to this act.”

How can legislation that exempts all persons from liability be considered legitimate, when it does not adequately protect vulnerable patients who may be coerced or forced into taking the lethal medication once the prescription is filled?   What if the patient changes their mind and is forced to take the lethal drugs?  Who would know since the legislation does not require that a witness be present?

If this Act becomes law in NJ, will the insurance companies deny coverage for treatment but instead pay for assisted suicide because it is less costly?  This is precisely what happened in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal.  Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup are two examples of patients who were informed that the Oregon Health Plan wouldn’t pay for their chemotherapy, but would pay for assisted suicide.

Government’s primary duty is to protect the life of its citizens.   This legislation runs counter to that principle.  It turns doctors, trained to heal and save lives, into agents of death who can directly and intentionally act to end or participate in ending another person’s life.  It leaves vulnerable and elderly people open to abuse by family members, caregivers, financial beneficiaries, and a profit driven health insurance industry.

There is no clamor to pass this law in our state.   The legalization of assisted suicide is being pushed here in NJ and other states by a well-funded outside lobbying group called Compassion and Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society.

During a February 2013 legislative hearing which I attended, the President of Compassion and Choices boasted that she wrote the NJ assisted suicide legislation.  The group’s donors include billionaire investor George Soros and Population control activists.  NJ citizens deserve to know the facts about the dangers of this legislation instead of being fed empty promises by the purveyors of death who hide behind the mask of compassion and choice.

Ana P. Gomes, D.O., a family practitioner who practices medicine at Kaleidoscope Medical Associates in Phillipsburg and who is affiliated with the New Jersey Alliance Against Doctor-Prescribed Suicide, has written against the bill:

The New Jersey Death with Dignity Act has little to do with discussing end-of-life care with our doctor, as those who are pushing to legalize assisted suicide would lead us to believe. Every day, doctors like me give end-of-life care information to their patients and their families, from hospice care choices to palliative care options.

The proposed physician assisted suicide legislation stipulates that doctors may prescribe lethal doses of drugs to patients who have less than six months to live. While we make the prognoses as best we can, using the most advanced technology, a prognosis is still just a highly informed guess.

Enormous pressure is levied against patients who believe they have but a few months more to live, when the reality could be much different.

Take, for example, the case of Oregonian Jeanette Hall, who was given less than a year to live after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Overcome with fear and despair about a disease she believed would render her too weak to function and a burden to her family, along with the overwhelming thought of medical costs, Jeanette asked her radiologist for physician assisted suicide. Fortunately for Jeanette, her radiologist believed his role was to cure her and to offer her hope, which he did. Thirteen years later, Jeannette is grateful for his advice and thankful that he did not believe the only way out for her was suicide.

Health care is already a very complex industry and it is becoming even more so. Health care is often made worse when the Legislature attempts to trump a physician’s expertise with political prescriptions that have no place in the medical community.

Discussing with a patient a potentially terminal prognosis is always difficult, and the decisions that must be made are varied and complex. The last thing patients need is state-sanctioned pressure that implicitly informs them they are no longer of value. Rather, effective management tools such as hospice and better palliative care can offer real options that don’t carry hidden threats.

The bill is dangerous. Once the lethal dose is prescribed, there is no requirement for medical oversight or psychological screening to eliminate the possibility that a patient is acting out of depression or dementia. The administration of the drugs is left to the patient or possibly a family member or friend, leaving the door wide open for abuse. Without accountability, the pressure on the patient is sharply accentuated. What if that patient is feeling pressure from the family to ask for that lethal dose of medication? Or worse yet, what if the lethal drugs are used for something more nefarious?

The bill is opposed by members of both political parties, the medical community as a whole, and various disability rights groups.

Gov. Christie also announced his opposition to the legislation. As a physician, I appreciate his clarity on this issue. It is a physician’s duty to put his or her patient’s well-being first, and assisted suicide turns that relationship on its head. There is no “choice” when implicit and explicit pressures come with a serious disability or illness. This legislation is a dangerous mix of assisted suicide as medicine and political expediency. It’s a proposal that New Jersey can do without.