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Bishop: New Jersey Assisted Suicide Law Will Cause ‘Undue Pressure’ on Elderly

Pat Shurmur, head coach of the New York Giants football team, and Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, N.J., listen to a speaker during the Diocese of Metuchen’s Men’s Lenten Afternoon of Prayer in the Year of Spiritual Awakening introduce the program for the day. (Photo: CNS)

By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent

NEW YORK — On the eve of New Jersey’s new assisted law going into effect, Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen has issued a pastoral letter lamenting that state’s move into what he terms the “darkness of despair.”

The new law, which will allow individuals over the age of 18 to seek medical assistance in dying if they have a terminal diagnosis of six months or less to live, will take effect August 1.

“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,” Bishop Checchio writes in letter dated July 29.

The law was passed in April by the New Jersey state legislature and signed into effect by Catholic Governor Phil Murphy.

“After careful consideration, internal reflection 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,” Murphy said at the time, adding that he believes it is a personal decision to decide whether to utilize the new law.

The law was opposed by all of the state’s Catholic bishops.

“Assisted suicide is a grievous affront to the dignity of human life and can never be morally justified,” wrote Bishop Checchio in the letter. “The legal permission now granted to this practice does not change the moral law. With this law, the elderly could feel undue pressure to view this as an option to prevent being a burden to others and young people will begin to think that people can and should be disposable. Indeed, with this law there will be a further desensitization of the value of human life.”

“The purposeful termination of human life via a direct intervention is not a humane action whatsoever. We ought to look instead to minimizing the pain and suffering of the dying and those who are tempted to end their lives,” Bishop Checchio said.

He went on to note that St. Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, as a Catholic hospital sponsored by the diocese, will not cooperate with the law.

“Let us strive to help the sick and incapacitated find meaning in their lives, even and especially in the midst of their suffering. Let us comfort those facing terminal illness or chronic conditions through our genuine presence, human love and medical assistance,” he continued in the letter to the 650,000 Catholics in the diocese.

“Let us, as a society and as individuals, choose to walk with them, in their suffering, not contribute to eliminating the gift of life,” wrote Bishop Checchio.