National campaign guiding ill adults to end lives advertises on Hillside billboard
Published: Wednesday, July 14, 2010, 6:00 AM Updated: Wednesday, July 14, 2010, 4:01 PM
Steve Strunsky/The Star-Ledger
Jerry McCrea/The Star-LedgerRobert J. Levine of Princeton, who volunteers for The Final Exit Network NJ chapter; is seen in front of the organization promotional billboard located on Route 22 in Hillside.
HILLSIDE — The huge black billboard is hard to miss, looming over a stretch of Route 22 in Hillside like a harbinger of death, or at least the right to die:
"My Life My Death My Choice FinalExitNetwork.org"
The 15-by-49-foot billboard stands on the westbound side of the highway, facing eastbound traffic. The message went up June 28, paid for by Final Exit Network, a nationwide group that provides guidance to adults seeking to end a life of constant pain from incurable illness.
Levine said reaction on the organization’s website has been mixed: "From, ‘God bless you, we finally have somebody who understands us,’ to ‘You are a bunch of atheists and you ought to be put in jail.’"
Criticism has also come from two other corners: suicide prevention counselors and the Catholic Church.
Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark, said the message "cannot be condoned."
"The Catholic Church teaches, and has always taught, that all human life has dignity and all human life is precious," he said.
Therapists called the billboard "irresponsible," arguing it could serve as a "tipping point" for troubled teens or others at risk of suicide.
"The idea of any of these upset, impressionable kids seeing a billboard like that absolutely horrifies me," said Judith Springer, a Morristown psychologist and board member of the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide. "You can’t filter who sees a publicly displayed sign."
At least one motorist driving by the billboard had a similar opinion. Minji Ryu, 30, of South Amboy, said the billboard’s message was vague and could "give a totally different message to teenagers," who might take it as condoning suicide under any circumstance.
The network does not advocate physician-assisted suicide, a practice associated with Jack Kevorkian, who served eight years in prison on a second-degree murder charge in Michigan in 1999, after he gave a lethal injection to a man with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Instead, it recommends suffocation by donning an air-tight hood and inhaling helium pumped in through a tube