A Right to Die? Terminally Ill Telling NJ — Let Us Go With Dignity
Susan Boyce has already outlived her original prognosis, but the 55-year-old Rumson resident knows "the end is inevitable" due to a progressive terminal illness that's left her with less than 30 percent of a normal person's lung capacity.
Whenever the end actually nears, she wants the option to end her suffering and die peacefully in her sleep — with the help of prescribed medication.
Supporters of the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act — which would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults the ability to obtain such drugs — are visiting Trenton Thursday to tell lawmakers it's time to make progress with the legislation that's been knocked around since 2012.
"I think it would give me great comfort to know that I would have such a prescription at my disposal if and when I decide to take it," Boyce said. "I can't tell you for sure whether I would ever take it."
Thursday hosts the first of three voting session days before year's end. With no action, sponsors and supporters would have to start from square one again.
Corinne Carey, New Jersey campaign director for Compassion & Choices, said "death with dignity" laws have been passed in seven states and the District of Columbia. Since Oregon made the move in 1994, fewer than 2,000 people have received a prescription for aid-in-dying medication. More than 1,200 passed away by using it.
"Most people will not opt for this, but for those who are suffering at the end of life, we should not be standing in the way of that option," Carey said.
Carey noted New Jersey's proposed law would not force any doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional to participate.
"It's very important that this bill respects all people's views," she said.
The measure last saw action in March when it was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee following more than three hours of testimony.
Referring to the measure as assisted suicide, opponents said enacting it would be "a crime," and that the change would be harmful to "doctors and nurses who have been legally trained to do no harm."
The bill defines "terminally ill" as someone with a prognosis of six months or less to live. In order to receive a prescription, an individual needs to make multiple requests, at least two weeks apart, and provide witnesses who attest the request is voluntary.
“I’m optimistic the bill will move from the Assembly in October," Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, told New Jersey 101.5. "I’m also encouraged that there are enough votes in the Senate in support of the bill. And if everything falls into place, we should see it on the Governor’s desk by the end of November.”
Burzichelli's measure passed the full Assembly in 2014 and 2016, but stalled in the Senate.
Boyce said she has the full support of her husband and kids should the measure become law and she decides to use the medication.
"I don't want to commit suicide, I'm not depressed, I want to live," she said. "I just want to end the suffering when it gets to that unbearable point."