Aid-in-dying bill advances in N.J. Legislature

Assemblyman John Burzichelli of Gloucester County is the bill's sponsor.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli of Gloucester County is the bill's sponsor.
Posted: June 07, 2014

TRENTON - A New Jersey legislative panel advanced a proposal Thursday that would grant terminally ill adults the right to obtain medication from a physician that they could self-administer to end their lives.

The bill would allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to individuals 18 or older who are suffering from an incurable and irreversible disease that doctors conclude will end the patient's life within six months, and who have expressed a wish to die.

Patients would have to show they were capable of making health-care decisions. Hospitals and doctors would not be required to participate.

"This is about choice," Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D., Gloucester), the bill's sponsor, told the Health and Senior Services Committee.

While terminally ill patients can turn to palliative care or hospice, he said, some "would like another choice: to have assistance in aid in dying when medicine has reached its limits."

Opponents object on moral and religious grounds.

Burzichelli's sister-in-law, Claudia Dowling Burzichelli, testified last year in favor of a similar bill, explaining that her father, who had Parkinson's, had committed suicide. She had stage four lung cancer and has died.

The legislation, originally called the New Jersey Death With Dignity Act, is based on a 1994 Oregon law that legalized assisted dying. Aid in dying - also referred to as assisted suicide - is also legal in Washington state, Vermont, and Montana.

New Jersey criminalized the practice in 1978.

Burzichelli's bill was not posted for a vote last year before the full Assembly. On Thursday, the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee passed the bill, 8-4. It would need to pass the full Assembly and Senate before heading to Gov. Christie.

After two verbal requests, patients would have to submit a request for medication in writing, along with two witnesses, at least one of whom is not a blood relative or entitled to the patient's estate.

Physicians would be required to offer their patients the chance to rescind their request.



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