If New Jersey is going to permit physician-assisted suicide, the penalties must be as extreme as possible for those who use the approach in nefarious ways, according to legislation in the works by a state assemblyman.

"There's plenty of opportunity for abuse here," said Assemblyman Robert Auth, R-Bergen, who voted against the controversial measure that allows near-death patients the ability to obtain prescription medication that would help them end their own lives.

Included in the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, which Gov. Phil Murphy intends to sign, is a provision that makes it a second-degree crime to alter a medication request with the intent of killing a patient, and a third-degree crime to coerce a patient into requesting the life-ending drugs.

Auth said both of these acts are akin to murder, and should be treated as such. Under the legislation he plants to introduce, the crimes would be bumped up to first-degree murder and would come with a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life.

"It should be a crime of the first degree because the end result is someone's death," Auth said. "The result is the same whether it's done with a knife or it's done with a fist full of pills."

Auth said family members of the terminally ill are not the only individuals who may take advantage of the recently-approved right-to-die legislation. Insurance companies and nursing homes, he said, could also benefit from one dying sooner than later.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dinoflammia@yahoo.com.

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