Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday signed legislation making New Jersey the seventh state to enact a law legalizing physician assisted suicide. Leaders and advocates for the Orthodox community have steadily warned since its inception that the law is “dangerous” to all those who live in the state and had made advocacy to stop it a high priority.
Murphy, a Democrat, signed the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act in private. His office would not answer why the signing was not public. The law goes into effect in August.
He earlier indicated he would support the bill, but in a personal statement, Murphy — a lifelong Catholic — revealed that he wrestled with whether to sign the legislation. The state’s Catholic Conference testified against the measure.
“I have concluded that, while my faith may lead me to a particular decision for myself, as a public official I cannot deny this alternative to those who may reach a different conclusion,” Murphy wrote. “I believe this choice is a personal one and, therefore, signing this legislation is the decision that best respects the freedom and humanity of all New Jersey residents.”
Under the law, patients who are judged by doctors to be irreversibly terminally ill and have a prognosis of six months or less to live will now be able to acquire medication to end their lives.
Lawmakers have tried since at least 2012 to advance the legislation.
Patients who request a physician’s assistance in ending their lives must undergo a psychological evaluation, have their diagnosis confirmed by a second doctor and make their request twice within a period of 15 days.
Under the law, patients must administer the drug to themselves, and his or her attending physician would be required to offer other treatment options, including palliative care.
In addition to moral concerns, opponents fear that giving doctors a legal way to aid patients to end their lives would corrupt the role of the physician as a healer and would discourage medical professionals from administering life-prolonging treatments for patients who have been deemed terminally ill. An additional worry is that such a law would lead insurance companies to refuse to cover care for such individuals.
“With the signing of this bill to legalize assisted suicide, many vulnerable New Jerseyans are now at risk of deadly harm through mistakes, coercion, and abuse,” said Matt Valliere, executive director of the Patients Rights Action Fund, an advocacy group opposed to such legislation.
Advocates of the bill argue that allowing doctors to help terminally ill patients end their lives gives them the “autonomy” to determine their own fates.
The measure passed both the Democrat Assembly and Senate with minimal majorities.
In addition to California and Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia all have similar legislation. New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo recently voiced his support for passing legislation to permit the practice in his state as well.