A New Jersey panel approved a bill to make the state the third to legalize assisted suicide. The Assembly Health and Sr. Services committee voted NJ Bill A3328 out of committee with a 7-2-2 vote. Of the four Republicans, two voted now and two abstained, while all Democrats supported the measure.
“Two of the Assembly health committee members were substituted by two pro-Assisted suidice legislators, one of who was the sponsor, Asm. Burzichelli,” Marie Tasy of New Jersey Right to Life explains. “The bill now moves to the full Assembly. The Senate Companion bill, S2259 can be scheduled at any time in the Senate Health Committee. The bill requires a vote by both houses of the legislature. If passed by a simple majority, it will go to the Governor for approval. If the Governor signs it, it will go on the ballot in time for the November election. If the Governor vetoes it, the legislation does not go on the ballot.”
The following is Tasy’s testimony to the committee before the vote:
To begin, we must take into account the language in the Act is intended to be “liberally construed” to effectuate its purposes. The Act, therefore, requires careful examination to place its provisions and interpretation in the proper context.
The Act defines “terminal disease” as “an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, result in a patient’s death within six months.”
So often medicine is wrong. Just because a person is terminal does not mean they will die within six months. This language does not take into account the effect treatment may have on the illness. Can the person’s life be extended if they have the proper treatment?
I am sure we all know someone who fits this criteria. Some people do beat the odds. I had a friend who was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was told to go home and that there was nothing they could do for her. She went to another doctor who treated her and she lived 5 ½ years after that initial diagnosis. I know another gentleman who was involved in a work related injury which exposed him to a toxic substance causing irreparable damage to his lungs. As a result, he has suffered lung and liver damage, diabetes, 7 strokes, hydrocephalus and paralysis. In 1994, he was deemed by his physician as “terminal.” He is still alive 18 years later.
A3328 states that the process outlined in the bill be entirely voluntary and even includes language that purports to hold persons accountable who coerce or exert undue influence on a patient to request medication; however, the language in the bill leaves 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.
A pharmacist who objects to the dispensing of the lethal medication will not be able to refuse because of a NJ law that requires pharmacists to dispense medications even if it goes against their moral, philosophical or religious beliefs so clearly their participation will not be voluntary under this Act.
The Act requires a valid request for medication to be signed and dated by the patient and witnessed by at least two individuals. Although the Act prohibits one of the witnesses from being an heir or relative of the patient “by blood, marriage, or adoption,” it also permits one of the witnesses to be a relative or heir of the patient. The Act also requires that one of the witnesses be an individual designated by a long term facility if the patient is a resident of a long term facility. These provisions are a recipe for elder abuse, especially if the patient is wealthy.
The Act permits the dispensing of the lethal medication to a third party who is defined as “an expressly identified agent of the patient.” This means that the pharmacist can give the drugs to a friend or acquaintance for delivery to the patient.
A 3328 does not require a witness at the time of death. The act states that the person may “self-administer” but defines this as “ingesting medication to end that individual’s life in a humane and dignified manner.” What if the patient changes their mind about taking the lethal drugs and another person forces them to “ingest the medication.” Who would report it? Once the lethal prescription is picked up at the local pharmacy, there is no tracking method to ensure that the medication does not end up in the wrong hands.
The Act requires the attending physician to list the terminal disease as the cause of death and not the lethal drugs that caused the immediate death. Do we do this in any other area of medicine and law?
The Act completely erases existing law prohibiting assisted suicide. It would be very hard to prove that someone was coerced or unduly influenced under this Act as outlined previously in my testimony.
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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? That is precisely what is happening in states that have passed these laws.
In Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal since 1997, the regular suicide rate is 35% higher than the national average. According to a September 9, 2010 Press Release from the Oregon Department of Health, “… suicide rates have been increasing significantly since 2000.”
Do we really want to follow Oregon’s lead? How can we tell our citizens, especially our youth that suicide is wrong, but then proceed to move forward with this dangerous and misguided legislative proposal that calls suicide “death with dignity” and expect that it will not have an impact? Is this committee willing to take that risk?