Catholic bishop in NJ: Don’t be complacent in the face of legal assisted suicide

CNA Staff, Aug 13, 2020 / 11:58 am (CNA).- Reflecting on the first anniversary of the taking effect of a New Jersey law allowing assisted suicide, Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen has encouraged Catholics to continue in unconditional respect for human life.

“We cannot be complacent and just accept that physician-assisted suicide is the law now in our state,” Bishop Checchio said, according to an Aug. 12 statement from the Diocese of Metuchen. “When any human life, especially the weakest, is devalued by society it promotes a devaluing of all human life.”

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act allows competent New Jersey residents deemed by two doctors to have fewer than six months to live to request lethal medication to end their lives. The patient must administer the medication themselves.

The law was approved by the New Jersey legislature in March 2019, and signed into law the following month. It took effect Aug. 1, 2019. It was temporarily halted by a judge in the state, but an appeals court allowed it to take effect while a legal challenge against it was being heard.

According to the state health department, 12 New Jerseyans ended their lives under the law's provisions in 2019.

“All life is a gift from God and … every person has inherent and inalienable dignity because we are made in God’s image and likeness – young or old, healthy or sick, all human life is precious,” Bishop Checchio reflected.

He added that respect for human life “is the same foundation of our belief and our efforts to eliminate racism from our midst.”

The bishop encouraged Catholics to support the elderly and sick by easing “their physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering.”

“We count on our faithful and all people of good will to join in this effort to make our state one we can be proud to be a part of and we recommit ourselves to join with others in our state to do all that we can to proclaim the truth that every life is sacred.”

He lamented that the temptation to die can have been “exacerbated over recent months by the COVID-19 pandemic,” saying it “has brought a raft of new stressors, including loss of community and social isolation, that have been especially difficult for the elderly and the sick, and for their families. Sadly, some reports indicate a rise in suicides as well as an increase in requests for medically-assisted death.”

“Our need for compassionate care is more important than ever,” said Bishop Checchio. “We are now challenged with finding creative new ways to provide tender accompaniment for those who are sick or near the end of life so that no one feels compelled to choose assisted suicide.”   

The law was signed by New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, a self-described “lifelong, practicing Catholic”.

Murphy said that he was aware of the Church’s opposition to assisted suicide, but that after careful consideration and prayer, “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.”

“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,” Murphy said.

On the eve of the law's taking effect, Bishop Checchio condemned assisted suicide as “a grievous affront to the dignity of human life” that “can never be morally justified.”

“Passage of this law points to the utter failure of government, and indeed all society, to care truly, authentically and humanely for the suffering and vulnerable in our midst, especially those living with an incurable disease as well as the frail elderly, the infirm and those living with disabilities,” he said.

In the US, assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and in Montana by a court ruling.

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