The New Jersey Assembly passed a bill Thursday that would allow physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients, legislation that one prominent Jewish group said will “legalize suicide.”
The issue dives deeply into philosophical issues and could become a test of Gov. Chris Christie’s conservative credentials as he considers a presidential run.
The Assembly voted 41-31 in favor of the bill after emotional speeches from members who talked about lessons learned from the deaths of loved ones.
Agudath Israel of America’s New Jersey office pronounced themselves “deeply distressed” over the bill. They noted that only 41 legislators voted for it, or the minimum needed to pass.
“This bill … simply put will legalize suicide,” said Rabbi Avi Schnall, the director of Agudah’s New Jersey office. “The vote today demonstrates the importance of every vote as well as the need for an intensive grassroots effort to make an impression upon the maximum number of senators,”
The Senate has not yet taken up the legislation, and it is not known whether Christie would sign it. If he were to veto it, it would take 48 votes to override it in the Assembly — or the support of at least eight of the nine members who were not present Thursday, along with those who voted for the bill.
The New Jersey bill is similar to laws already in place in four other states. It establishes a procedure for patients to request to end their lives. A second doctor would have to certify the original terminal diagnosis and confirm the patient is capable of making the decision without pressure.
Opponents worry that there are not enough protections. Groups who advocate for people with disabilities held a news conference earlier Thursday to object to the bill.
“Some people’s lives will be ended without their consent through mistakes or abuse,” predicted Norman Smith, who has cerebral palsy.