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New Jersey puts halt to assisted suicide bill after groundswell of opposition

20 January 2016 | by Catholic News Service

New Jersey has allowed a proposed bill to legalise assisted suicide to run out of time after lawmakers admitted that they heard "many more voices opposed to the bill" than in favour.

The Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act had passed the state assembly in November 2014, and supporters of the practice had been lobbying state senators to pass the bill ever since.

It was a bill that Trenton Bishop David M. O'Connell had called "another tragic example of human hubris," saying that Catholics in the state should speak out against the "choice we should never make."

And speak out they did, flooding phone lines and inboxes with messages of opposition to a practice the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls "morally unacceptable." Some legislators changed their mind about the bill after hearing from so many concerned constituents.

"There was never a groundswell of support for this bill," Democratic Sen. Peter Barnes said in a statement after the legislative session expired. "On balance, we heard from many more voices opposed to this bill."

One of those voices was Dawn Teresa Parkot, who was born with cerebral palsy and had testified before legislators against the bill.

"The legal option to commit suicide with a physician's help would be perceived as an obligation by many terminally ill patients concerned about being a burden to loved ones," Parkot told The Monitor, Trenton's diocesan newspaper, after the legislation failed to come up for a vote.

The issue gathered steam in New Jersey following the high-profile case of Brittany Maynard, a California woman with a terminal illness who moved to Oregon in 2014 to take advantage of that state's physician-assisted suicide law and acquire life-ending drugs.

Two week after she took her own life, the New Jersey Assembly in a 41-31 vote Nov. 13, 2014, approved legislation to allow patients with a terminal diagnosis to acquire a lethal prescription.

In December 2014, the bill was brought in front of the New Jersey Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens, which advanced the bill - without recommendation - after a long debate by a 5-3 vote. Two of the state senators who voted to release the bill from committee said they did so only to allow the entire Senate to consider the bill, and still had strong reservations about the legislation.

Throughout the legislative process, advocates such as the New Jersey Alliance Against Doctor-Prescribed Suicide spoke out against the legislation. The coalition was made up of a broad cross section of groups, such as the Center for Independent Living, Not Dead Yet, the American Academy of Medical Ethics, and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

"The only real 'death with dignity' is the one that follows a full 'life with dignity' as God our Creator has designed and intends it to be, with all its natural, God given human moments," wrote Bishop O'Connell in November 2014.

The legislation would have allowed an adult New Jersey resident who has been determined "to be suffering from a terminal disease that will cause death within six months" to obtain lethal medication to "end his life in a humane and dignified manner," per the text of the bill. While the bill described itself as having "procedural safeguards" against abuse, Parkot said that the process was inherently unsafe.

"While those who wrote and modified the bill pointed to the alleged safeguards against its abuse," Parkot said, "there was no way they can assure that the safeguards will be observed. There was no real means of assuring that those who participate in the process follow all the provisions."

 

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