New Jersey Assembly passed historic aid-in-dying bill -- will Gov. Christie veto?

New Jersey would be the fourth state to pass official "Death With Dignity" legislation

By Joanna Rothkopf
Published November 14, 2014 3:45PM (EST)
Brittany Maynard  (AP/Maynard Family)
Brittany Maynard (AP/Maynard Family)

On Thursday, New Jersey's state Assembly passed legislation that would allow doctors to aid terminally ill patients in dying by prescribing them life-ending drugs. The legislation was inspired by Oregon's "Death With Dignity" law, which allowed 29-year-old Brittany Maynard to end her life after being diagnosed with terminal stage IV brain cancer.

The bill, which passed 41-to-31, was introduced by Assemblyman John Burzichelli who was motivated by the death of his sister Claudia from lung cancer in 2013.

"While there are many choices available right now that may be right for certain people, there is one more choice, not currently available, that deserves an honest discussion," Burzichelli said in a statement.'s Susan K. Livio reports on the specifics of New Jersey's proposed law:

Under the bill, (A-2270) patients suffering from a terminal disease seeking to end their lives would have to first verbally request a prescription from their attending physician, followed by a second request at least 15 days later and one request in writing signed by two witnesses. The patient's physician would have to offer the patient a chance to rescind their request, and a consulting physician would then be called upon to certify the original diagnosis and reaffirm the patient is capable of making a decision.

The bill is written for people with a terminal illness, defined as an incurable, irreversible and medically confirmed disease that will end the person's life within six months.

Currently, only Washington, Oregon and Vermont have enacted Death With Dignity laws. Courts in Montana and New Mexico have ruled that physicians can write life-ending medication for terminally ill patients.

The bill still has to be approved by the state Senate and then be signed by Gov. Chris Christie, who, according to Reuters, has promised to veto such a bill. Kenneth Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, said Christie's presidential ambitions could influence his judgment.

“I’ve spoken with people who vehemently disagree with my bill, but I haven’t made any enemies,” Burzichelli said last February. “I think even those who disagree recognize that there have been such rapid changes in medicine, in the ability to simply keep people alive, that some kind of changes must be debated.”

Still, the bill's approval in the Assembly points to changing attitudes regarding end-of-life decision-making. "Today's vote reflects our first victory in the memory and spirit of Brittany Maynard," said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, the organization that worked with Maynard in her final months. "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."

Joanna Rothkopf

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Aid-in-dying Brittany Maynard Chris Christie Death With Dignity New Jersey