Senate committee approves bill allowing terminally ill the right to die

New Jersey statehouse
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TRENTON, N.J. (KYW Newsradio) — A New Jersey State Senate committee has approved a measure that would give terminally ill residents the choice to take their own lives, with the help of drugs prescribed by a physician.

This is not the first go round for what is now called “Aid in Dying” legislation. But a bill has never gotten enough support to pass in the legislature. 

Supporters like Corrine Carey with Compassion and Choices hope it will this time.

“Authorizing medical aid in dying doesn’t mean that more people will die,” Corrine Carey with the group Compassion and Choices testified before the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee in Trenton. “It just simply means that fewer people will die with unbearable suffering.”

Opponents have their own label for the bill: assisted suicide. 

Patrick Brannigan with the New Jersey Catholic Conference was among them.

“We should not be enacting a policy that implies that the state of New Jersey is, in fact, endorsing suicide at any level,” he said.

There were passionate speeches on both sides. But there was a brief exchange between one opponent of the bill, Father Joe Desmond, an opponent of the bill, and State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), who voted in favor of it. It shows the true quandary at play here.

Desmond maintained, “Most people who request assisted suicide are depressed. They can’t see any way out.” 

Sweeney countered, “People commit suicide every day. Unfortunately. And that is from depression and mental health and a lot of other reasons. We’re talking about someone in sound mind that has been given six months to live.”

That prompted Desmond to ask of Sweeney, “What is the goal of medicine? To cure, to care or to kill?” 

The senator’s response? 

“It is to treat people with respect and dignity when there is no more cure," Sweeney said. 

The committee approved the measure. 

A similar bill has also cleared an assembly committee. Both await full legislative action. 

Six other states and Washington D.C. allow for terminally ill patients to take their own lives under a doctor’s approval.