After a second hearing, during which pro-life groups and disability rights advocates finally got a chance to present their views to lawmakers, a New Jersey state Senate committee has advanced a bill that would legalize assisted suicide.
Previously, the head of the committee prevented pro-life groups and other bill opponents from testifying, but this time they were heard during the six-hour hearing.
“The Senate Chair, Senator Joseph Vitale allowed everyone who attended the chance to testify. The committee was respectful and attentive to all the witnesses, although there was a time limit imposed because of the vast number who came out to testify in opposition,” Marie Tasy of New Jersey Right to Life told LifeNews.
“The testimony in opposition came from four physicians, many members of the Disability Community, including Not Dead Yet and Second Thoughts, Nurses, New Jersey Right to Life, Christian Pastors, Jewish leaders and individuals who were battling illness and disease but who were adamantly opposed to the bill,” she said. “Witnesses in opposition overwhelmingly outnumbered witnesses in favor.”
The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee approved the bill on a 5-3 vote, but some lawmakers who were in favor of the legislation said they would vote against it in the full Senate. That’s the good news for pro-life advocates, as one news report indicates:
One of the bill’s original sponsors, Chairman Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, took his name off the legislation because, he said, “The more I thought about it, the more questions I had. I just thought it was best to say, ‘I’m not sure.’”
Still, Vitale cast a vote Monday in favor of releasing the bill to the full Senate, but without recommendation – meaning there is not overwhelming support in the majority.
It isn’t known if it has the 21 votes to clear the Senate, though Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, has come out in support of the bill. In a statement, he said he believes there “needs to be an honest discussion about this option.”
An Assembly version cleared last month with 41 votes, the minimum needed for a bill to pass. And even if the bill does pass the Senate, Governor Christie has said he does not support it.
Such a measure is contentious enough, but several speakers – and one committee member – suspected the bill was getting rammed through to the Senate.
“This is a very, very, very critical piece of legislation that deserves to have its time. It rushed through the Assembly in the dark of night. It’s rushing through the Senate in the dark of night,” said Sen. Bob Singer, R-Ocean. “What’s this urgency that it can’t get its fair share and can’t (let) everyone be heard?”
On Monday, several speakers expressed worry that the law, if passed, would become an option of first resort, not the last, for some.
“What we have is palliative care for the rich and death for the poor. Is that the road we’re really going down here?” said Alan Holdsworth, a member of the group Not Dead Yet.
The bill was released from committee without recommendation which means that members voted to release but reserve their right to change their vote when it comes before the full Senate.
Voting to release the bill from committee: Senators Vitale (D), Gordon (D), Whelan (D), Codey (D) and Addiego ( R ). Voting No to release the bill: Senator Madden (D), Senator Rice (D), Senator Singer ( R ). One Republican Senator, Diane Allen was absent and did not vote. Among the Democrats who voted to release the bill from committee, Senators Vitale and Gordon said publicly they would vote No when the bill comes before the full Senate.
Tasy said pro-life advocates need to call and email their senators ASAP.