New Jersey is set to become the latest state to legalize assisted suicide, as both chambers of the state legislature have passed a bill allowing the practice, which Governor Phil Murphy (D) says he will sign.
“Allowing terminally ill and dying residents the dignity to make end-of-life decisions according to their own consciences is the right thing to do,” said Murphy on Monday, who has in the past spoken about his “strict Catholic” upbringing.
“I look forward to signing this legislation into law,” he said.
New Jersey Catholic leaders have been firm against the progress of the new law.
“Assisted suicide promotes neither free choice nor compassion,” a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Newark told CNA.
“Every gift of human life is sacred, from conception to natural death, and the life and dignity of every person must be respected and protected at every stage and in every condition. Catholics should be leaders in the effort to defend and uphold the principle that each of us has a right to live with dignity through every day of our lives.”
She told CNA that the archdiocese has been lobbying against the bill since its inception.
The bill will allow adults to receive life-ending drugs if they have been told by a doctor that they have less than six months to live. The bill was authored by Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, who has been attempting to pass the legislation for nearly seven years.
The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act passed with bipartisan support. The New Jersey Assembly voted 41 to 33 to pass the bill, with the Senate passing the measure 21 to 16.
Critics of the legislation argue that it opens the door for abuse and does not require psychiatric evaluation of patients who may be struggling with depression that is leading to suicidal inclinations.
Although the bill has been passed and the governor has issued his intent to sign it into law, Cheryl Riley, director of the Archdiocese of Newark’s Respect Life Office, told CNA that her office will not be backing down.
“We’re still not going to stop fighting,” Riley told CNA. “Every life deserves to be protected.”
As Catholics, Riley said that they should seek to protect “all life,” and that there can be blessings associated with the end of someone’s life that should not be discounted.
“No one wants to watch a loved one be in pain,” she said, but added that many people have seen families come together and reestablish relationships when someone is nearing the end of their life.
Riley also expressed concern that the law sends a mixed message on suicide, particularly because there has been much effort to prevent young adults and teenagers from ending their lives.
“This is just legalized suicide,” she said.
The Church’s opposition to assisted suicide is longstanding. In 1980, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a “Declaration on Euthanasia” which fully explained that the Church is opposed to the practice.
“It is necessary to state firmly once more that nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying,” the declaration said.
“Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action.”
Although in favor of the act, Murphy has not indicated when he will be signing the bill into law.
Once the law is signed, New Jersey will join a handful of other states that allow medical professionals to prescribe lethal drugs. Currently, assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington, California, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, as well as in Montana through a state Supreme Court ruling.