If enacted, it would be for many Jews, well, toxic.
The “Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act (A-1504)” is sponsored by Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a Gloucester County Democrat. Last Monday, the assembly’s Judiciary Committee advanced the bill by a vote of 5-2.
The measure has failed in previous assembly attempts at passage during the Chris Christie administration. Its advocates hope that Gov. Phil Murphy will sign the bill into law.
Following a similar Oregon bill, A-1504 would allow a terminally ill, mentally fit, adult patient to request a prescription for a lethal medication. The bill outlines that two doctors would be needed to endorse that the patient, a New Jersey resident, had six months or less to live. The patient would be required to request the prescription in writing and witnessed by two people. One of the witnesses cannot be a family member who might be a beneficiary of the patient’s will or the patient’s attending physicians. The patient would also have to make two oral requests for the prescription. And the patient must be able to administer the medicine to himself. Similar legislation has passed in six states and Washington, D.C.
While a 2015 Rutgers-Eagleton poll showed that some 63 percent of state residents supported an aid-in-dying-bill, Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer, chairman of the Rabbinic Circle of the Coalition for Jewish Values, wrote in a press release: “The Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act constitutes an assault on the sanctity of life and must be opposed by every caring citizen. The act would sanction the voluntary taking of human life and would authorize others, especially medical professionals, to assist in such. It is contrary to biblical, moral values and introduces a slippery slope whereby government licenses professionals to assess the value of people’s lives and act lethally upon these assessments.”
In an interview with The Jewish Link, Rabbi Gordimer elaborated on his statement.
“In Judaism, we believe in the sanctity of life,” he told The Jewish Link. “Other people don’t accept these principles. They feel justified to take a life. That’s a big slippery slope. The Torah prohibits this, and most people don’t know the anti-Torah nature of the proposed bill.”
Avraham Sharaby, an activist against this legislation from Lakewood, is pushing hard to see the bill defeated.
“Last year, although this bill passed the assembly, it just failed to pass the Senate and the then-governor said he would veto it,” he wrote to The Jewish Link. “This year, however, it appears that the bill may have enough votes to become law in the Senate and the current governor seems willing to sign it into law. But all hope is not lost. Last year the bill lost the critical vote only to gain it back again a few moments later. If we can lobby all our forces, it is possible we can change one vote in any of the Jewish communities where one of our assembly members voted for the bill. Unfortunately, we have been asleep at the wheel; assembly members in Passaic, Teaneck, Bergenfield, Elizabeth, Edison and so on voted for this bill. If we were able to flip even one of them, we could have killed the bill the last time. This year very likely may also come down to just one vote. We must wrangle whatever we can do, and many thousands of lives depend on it.”
Rabbi Yaakov Menken, the managing director of the Coalition For Jewish Values, in an email to The Jewish Link, said that the very idea of assisted suicide is “symptomatic of a much larger lack of authentic Jewish values. With no exaggeration, it is our teachings that led humanity to value human life in the first place. Compare ‘Judeo-Christian ethics’ to the value systems of Romans, Huns and Vikings, all of which glorified warfare and often used battles to the death as a form of entertainment.
“Today many Jews take this for granted, attempting to improve upon our values instead of recognizing that Judaism still has much to teach us,” wrote Rabbi Menken.
CJV has joined organizations such as the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel in opposition of assisted suicide.
“As a young, national organization we have not yet developed our own contacts within the New Jersey state government,” wrote Rabbi Menken. “Rather it is our contacts with larger issue-driven organizations that helped us promote our views. In this case, Patients’ Rights Action Fund, which is based in New Jersey, advised us on how to insert our statement into the state record. We will continue to work with them and similar organizations to add a critical Jewish voice in support of our views. Those with opposing views often try to portray religious viewpoints as somehow violating the separation of church and state. We demonstrate that these views are not limited to any one religion, but are part of the foundational values of Western civilization.”
New Jersey has been working with issues connected to assisted suicide ever since the 1970s, when Karen Ann Quinlan became the symbol of a national right-to-die movement. Quinlan was 21 years old when she slipped into a coma after mixing tranquilizers with alcohol. Her parents would go on to win a New Jersey Supreme Court decision permitting them to remove their daughter from a life-supporting respirator. Even with this state Supreme Court decision, it still is illegal for a doctor to prescribe a lethal prescription to a terminally ill patient.
Rabbi Gordimer said that with the improvements of palliative care and pain management, patients certainly have more options than ever to live their lives.
“Only God can take a life,” the rabbi said. “A person is required to seek palliative care or pain care.”
Assisted suicide, he said, is “like a jihadist saying I’ll blow myself up. The slippery slope is there.”
By Phil Jacobs