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Christie may face a decision on assisted suicide in New Jersey

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) may have to make good on his promise to veto an assisted suicide bill wending its way through his state legislature.

When asked last December where he stood on the New Jersey Death With Dignity Act, Christie said simply that he was “opposed.” But now its prospects are looking a little brighter, and Christie may have to take action.

The state Assembly passed the bill, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman John Burzichelli, last week with the minimum 41 votes needed. And now it seems to have won some influential support in the state Senate:’s The Auditor reports that Senate President Stephen Sweeney — a Democrat from the same district as Burzichelli “who calls the shots in the upper-house” — signed on as a co-sponsor.

“It means I’m going to push very hard for its passage … I just think it’s a very humane thing to do,” he said.

Sweeney’s support is significant, though, he admits that passing the legislation will be difficult. But it’s worth pursuing, he told the Auditor, “because there are certain issues that are about doing the right thing.”

If the measure ekes out a victory in the Senate, Christie will have to make a high-profile decision whether or not his state would join a handful of others in allowing assisted suicide. It is currently authorized in Montana, Vermont, Washington and, perhaps most famously at the moment, Oregon, according to Compassion & Choices, a group that supports assisted suicide. A legal fight will determine its fate in New Mexico. A spokesman from his office said in an e-mail that he has no further comment than what he said in December, adding that “the bill remains under review at present.”

The issue has been recently debated in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, according to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures and Compassion & Choices. Inspired by Maynard, legislators in Wyoming and Pennsylvania recently introduced “death with dignity” bills in their states.

Polls on where Americans stand on the issue are mixed. Gallup has found that roughly 7 in 10 back support euthanasia, but answers hinge largely on how the question is asked. If asked about “physician-assisted suicide,” polling shows support just barely beating opposition. But if framed as a way to end a patient’s life painlessly, support is closer to 7 in 10.

A Pew poll, on the other hand, found public opinion to be divided. A Pew poll from last November found that 47 percent approve while 49 percent disapprove of physician-assisted suicide.

Disapproval was highest among black protestants (72 percent), followed by white evangelical protestants (67 percent), Hispanic Catholics (63 percent) and White Catholics (43 percent).

Conservatives disapprove of the policy nearly two to one (64 percent to 34 percent), while roughly 60 percent of moderates and liberals approve of it. Political independents lean toward approval, 53 percent to 44 percent, virtually the same as Democrats. Republicans oppose physician-assisted suicide 59 percent to 37 percent.

(Update, 4 p.m.: This story was updated with more detail on where assisted suicide stands in other states and where public opinion stands on the issue.)