PARAMUS, N.J. — Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Paramus) is a driving force behind the state’s Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act for a reason: personal experience.
The measure would give terminally ill patients access to life-ending drugs if they — and only they — request it.
The General Assembly already has passed the bill, A-2451.
Its primary sponsors are Eustace, John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) and Joe Danielsen (D-Somerset).
“We’ve heard from very many constituents asking for this,” Eustace said.
He understands firsthand how grueling and painful the end of life can be.
Twenty-five years ago, his 12-year-old son died after what he described as “a long, terrible illness.”
“Not that this bill would allow children to make these decisions,” the assemblyman said.
“But the point is if you’ve lived with someone who suffered a very long time, you understand this needs to be one of the options for an adult in our society.”
His 30 years in private practice as a chiropractor in Maywood also fuels his passion.
Eustace watched many of his patients die during the AIDS crisis.
“It could have been much more humane,” he said. “Quite frankly, we’re more humane to our dogs and our cats than we are to the terminally ill.”
The New Jersey bill calls for tighter restrictions than similar laws now in place in other states.
First, Eustace said, it requires a doctor to declare that a patient is terminally ill and has six months to live.
Second, only the patient can determine whether to have the medication.
“Nobody’s relative can make this decision,” Eustace said. “Nobody’s friend. Nobody’s health proxy.
“If you had ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and you were unable to speak or communicate, you would be unable to do this.”
The patient has to go through an onerous process to get his or her situation all worked out, he added.
Research shows that 70 percent of the people allowed to acquire the drugs do not use them, Eustace explained.
“They just feel they have more control over their life and their end,” he said.
The bill’s counterpart in the state Senate – S-2474 – has passed the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.
Next step: for the Senate to vote on the measure, cosponsored by Senators Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester).
“Hopefully, that will be soon,” Eustace said.
If the Senate passes the bill, and Gov. Christie signs it, the Garden State would become the sixth state in the nation to have a so-called “death with dignity” law.
The others are Oregon, which was first, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington.
A 2015 Rutgers Eagleton poll showed 63 percent of New Jerseyans support medical aid in dying across different demographics and political affiliations.