New Jersey's passage of medical aid in dying law doesn't quell debate

Mark Abrams
March 31, 2019 - 4:00 am
Death Bed

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- New Jersey now has a law on the books allowing those near death to request medication from a doctor to end their lives. But the debate rages on as the Garden State becomes the eighth in the nation to adopt medical aid in dying laws.

While Gov. Phil Murphy says allowing terminally ill people the dignity to make end-of-life decisions is the right thing to do, Father Tad Pacholczyk, of the Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center, has a different take.

"This is a complete failure of the medical profession," Pacholczyk said, "and it's also a complete failure of those who make laws to protect the common good."

Pacholczyk says one troubling element of such laws, including New Jersey's, is the decision is left solely to the terminally-ill person and the doctor is not obligated to notify family.

"The family is going to be finding out here, maybe that grandma did this on her own and why weren't we notified," he said. "You know, 'we had things we wanted to say to her, we would have been there for her if we had known she was thinking about this.'"

Kim Callinan is chief executive officer of Compassion and Choices, which supported the New Jersey law and lobbies for similar measures across the country.

"Our belief is that it's important that the person who is terminally ill maintains autonomy over their decision making," Callinan said. "They have been an autonomous adult, and to rob them of that autonomy at the end of life is inconsistent with who we are as a society."

Callinan says such laws are not in conflict with the traditional "do no harm" oath of the medical profession.

"By not respecting a patient's voice and by forcing them to suffer unnecessarily, we would say that's doing quite a bit of harm," she said.

But Pacholczyk, the bioethicist, says dying is a natural part of life and the process shouldn't be short-circuited by giving doctors immunity from prosecution for poisoning their patients.