Catholic Legislators Under Fire for Supporting Bill to Legalize Assisted Suicide in New Jersey

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Dec 14, 2016   |   11:23AM   |   Trenton, New Jersey

Several New Jersey Catholic lawmakers are ignoring church teachings about the sanctity of life and supporting a measure to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide this winter.

The bill, which would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients diagnosed with six months or fewer to live to help them commit suicide, passed the state Assembly and awaits action in the Senate. Gov. Chris Christie, a pro-life Catholic, likely will veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

The North Jersey Record reports the pro-assisted suicide Catholic politicians face strong opposition from disability rights advocates, medical professionals, their church and even some of their own family members because of their support of the deadly measure.

New Jersey state Sen. Richard Codey, a funeral director, supports the measure, while his sister, a Catholic nun, attorney and president of the Catholic HealthCare Partnership of New Jersey, opposes it, according to the report.

“I feel strongly about this as someone who witnesses death all the time,” Sen. Codey, D-West Orange, said. “This is an issue whose time has come.”

However, his sister said the bill would turn the medical profession against its purpose of healing lives, and allow it to kill them instead.

New Jersey Assemblyman John Burzichelli and Senate President Stephen Sweeney also are Catholics who support the doctor-prescribed suicide bill. They told the newspaper that the measure will give dying people a choice and help them have a peaceful death.

“The church takes positions that are not necessarily mainstream.  Why not give someone a choice?” Sweeney said. Later, he added: “This is the hardest vote I’ve ever been faced with. This is truly a vote of conscience.”

Many who oppose doctor-prescribed suicide, however, say it takes away people’s choices and opens the doors to coercion and abuse.

Here’s more from the report:

… at legislative hearings over the last few months there was emotional testimony from terminally ill patients about the economic pressure to opt for suicide rather than expensive treatment; opposition from physicians about the burden it would place on them; and misgivings from patients who had outlived their short-term terminal diagnoses.

Advocates for the disabled said they feared a “slippery slope” if subjective assessments of “quality of life” became a measure for ending it.

A number of senators have expressed misgivings about the bill, and it is unclear if it has the votes to pass the Senate.

In a California case, Stephanie Packer, a mother of four who suffers from terminal cancer, was denied coverage of her chemotherapy not long after her state legalized doctor-prescribed suicide. Packer told the Washington Times that her insurance would pay for her to commit suicide with the help of a doctor.

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Similar stories have been reported in Oregon, where doctor-prescribed suicide also is legal. In Vermont, which legalized doctor-prescribed suicide three years ago, a 91-year-old woman reported being pressured to commit suicide while she was staying in a rehab facility after she broke her wrist.

Euthanasia advocates will claim that there are safeguards built into doctor-prescribed suicide bills, but these so-called safeguards are easily circumvented, Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, explained previously. For example, the legislation requires that two witnesses be present when a person requests assisted suicide; but these witnesses can be an heir and a friend of the heir or an abusive caregiver, he said.

The legislation also requires that the patient self-administer the lethal suicide drugs, but it does not require that a doctor or any other professional be there when the person takes them. So, there really is no way of knowing if the person is taking the deadly drugs of their own free will, he said.

“The doctor prescribes lethal dose and never sees you again,” Fischbach said. “The doctor is not there when you die. There is no oversight.”

Euthanasia activists are pushing assisted suicide bills in states across the country. The Washington, D.C. City Council recently passed a measure to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide.

ACTION: Contact the legislators here to urge them to vote no on doctor-prescribed suicide:

State Sen. Richard Codey

Senate President Stephen Sweeney

Assemblyman John Burzichelli