NJ Assisted Suicide Bill Set For a Vote
On Thursday, the full New Jersey Assembly is scheduled to vote on a controversial bill that would give certain terminally ill patients, with a short time to live, the option of legally taking their own lives with the help of a doctor.
The measure is called the "Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act." Opponents say the legislation is dangerous because it is flawed in many areas.
Debbie Dunn is a registered nurse from Paramus. Pancreatic cancer took the life of her husband, Herbert, last year. She said he would likely have taken the option the bill would provide.
"He wanted to die," Dunn said. "He said he wanted to die three times to me and there was nothing I could do. As a nurse and as a wife who was concerned about losing her husband, I really wanted to help, but there was nothing I could do. He died an awful death. He was emaciated. He was going to die. There was no reversing it. He was dying."
The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-West Deptford), would require terminally ill patients with six months or less to live to verbally ask for a prescription from their doctor. That would be followed by a second verbal request at least 15 days later, and one written request signed by two witnesses. The doctor would have to offer the patient a chance to change their mind, and another doctor would have to certify the original diagnosis and reaffirm the patient is of sound mind. The patient would have to self-administer the drugs.
"All reports tell us they (terminally ill people) have great comfort in knowing that they have control of their circumstances, should the pain become too much, should their circumstances become overwhelming, should they find themselves in a place where they would rather not be," Burzichelli said, referring to other states where the practice is already legal.
Opponents have made strong cases against the bill as well. Dawn Parkot was misdiagnosed at birth. She had a brain defect that led doctors to tell her parents that she was going to be "nothing but a mindless vegetable." Ultimately, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Parkot has a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a master's degree in computer science and engineering from the University of Notre Dame.
"Often, patients are misdiagnosed and could make an irreversible decision to die based on the wrong information," Parkot said in June, in testimony before the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee. "Who can confirm that the assisted suicide choice was freely made when the only witness is dead?"
Assisted suicide has been debated often in recent weeks. Brittany Maynard was a 29-year-old terminal cancer patient who made international news with her YouTube video announcement that she would take her own life on Nov. 1. She did kill herself on that day as promised. Before doing so, Brittany moved to Oregon, where doctor-assisted suicide is legal.
Many others oppose the legislation for religious reasons.
Assisted suicide is currently legal only in Washington, Oregon, Montana, New Mexico and Vermont.