Death with Dignity Option Wins in Watershed Assembly Vote

November 18, 2014

Aid in Dying Law Now More Likely for People of New Jersey


November 13, 2014 (Trenton, NJ) – In a move that brings the people of New Jersey one step closer to having the medical option of aid in dying, the New Jersey State Assembly voted 41-31 in a bipartisan fashion to pass the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act (A2270).


“Today’s vote reflects our first victory in the memory and spirit of Brittany Maynard,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, President of Compassion & Choices, which advocated for the bill. “Brittany called on our nation to reform laws so others won’t have to move to a Dignity state for comfort and control in their dying. We’re honored to carry on in her name.”


The Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act would allow a mentally competent, terminally ill adult the choice to request a prescription for life-ending medication that the patient could take – if and when they choose – in order to reduce suffering at life’s end.


The Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act was re-introduced in February 2014 by Assembly Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli, whose own sister-in-law, Claudia Burzichelli, succumbed to lung cancer in 2013.   Prior to her death, she testified about her expected suffering, “…I would hope I might have more options than starving myself or taking my life in a violent way. I don’t know how I will truly feel if and when that time may come. But it comforts me there could be another way, other options.


“As I battle my illness, I would like the choice and comfort that comes with the option of aid in dying,” said Janet Colbert, a retired oncology nurse diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. “I, and others like me, deserve the right to a peaceful death, and I believe I will be welcomed into heaven just the same.” Colbert was among dozens of aid-in-dying supporters from around the state who travelled to the State House to champion the measure.


Polling shows strong support for death with dignity in New Jersey. 63 percent of likely New Jersey voters across every demographic, religious and political category support a law authorizing aid in dying, according to a 2014 Purple Strategies poll. A recent Farleigh Dickinson University poll also shows that a majority of New Jersey voters support the measure.


Four major newspapers have endorsed New Jersey’s aid in dying bill in recent months, while the issue made national headlines as 29-year-old, terminally ill Brittany Maynard explained her choice to die with dignity in Oregon.


Passage of the bill through the full Assembly adds to the growing momentum behind similar legislation around the country. Aid in dying is now authorized in five states, including Vermont, where it was approved by legislative action last year.


“My husband would have wanted to die a more humane, peaceful death. He would have chosen aid in dying,” said Debra Dunn, RN, of Paramus, NJ. “Today’s vote by the Assembly is a major step toward giving those facing terminal illness the end-of-life choices that my husband deserved, but never had.” Ms. Dunn’s husband, Herb, died in 2013 after a four-month battle with pancreatic cancer, and Ms. Dunn has become an outspoken advocate for death with dignity as a result.


“For those with terminal illness, peace of mind should not depend on where you live. Today’s vote offers real hope that soon, residents of New Jersey will have the same hope and comfort in their dying Oregonians have known for 17 years,” said Coombs Lee.


Compassion & Choices
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Patricia A. González-Portillo
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