New Jersey may become the first state to ban the practice of declawing cats.

A legislative committee approved a bill in mid-November that would add onychetomy — that's the medical term for the procedure — to a list of animal cruelty offenses, reports To become law, the bill must next pass a vote in the New Jersey Legislature.

People who request the procedure or veterinarians who perform them could face a fine of up to $1,000 or six months in jail. Violators would also face a civil penalty ranging from $500 to $2,000, according to the bill (PDF).

The bill also bans flexor tendonectomy, a procedure in which the cat keeps its claws, but the tendons to the toes are severed. An exception to the law would allow declawing for medical reasons.

"Declawing is a barbaric practice that more often than not is done for the sake of convenience rather than necessity," said bill sponsor Assemblyman Troy Singleton in a statement after the hearing. "Many countries worldwide acknowledge the inhumane nature of declawing, which causes extreme pain to cats. It's time for New Jersey to join them."

People who have their cats declawed most often do it to protect furniture and keep the pet from scratching family members. However, many animal rights organizations oppose the practice, saying it's painful and creates health risks, including bleeding and potential for infection. Some groups liken the surgery to cutting off the first knuckle of every finger.

But is this bill the right answer?

Members of the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association issued a statement opposing the proposed declawing ban, saying they believed it would lead to the increased euthanasia of unwanted cats.

“We’re the professionals who care for cats and care for the people who love their cats,” said NJVMA member, veterinarian Dr. Mike Yurkus. “We’re not pro declawing, but we are anti-euthanasia. We want to see cats in loving households and not euthanized or relinquished to shelters where they are 72 percent more likely to be euthanized. We simply ask that you leave the declawing decision to doctors in consultation with their clients.”

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has an official position on declawing:

The ASPCA is strongly opposed to declawing cats for the convenience of their owners or to prevent damage to household property. The only circumstances in which the procedure should be considered are those in which all behavioral and environmental alternatives have been fully explored, have proven to be ineffective, and the cat is at grave risk of euthanasia.

But the association is not in favor of anti-declawing legislation:

Legislation to make declawing illegal, while well-intentioned, can be problematic, because, in rare cases, the procedure may be justifiable as a last resort to prevent euthanasia. There is also no meaningful way to enforce a law that includes this exception.

Instead, the group believes that it's the responsibility of veterinarians to inform their clients about nonsurgical methods to deal with clawing-related issues and explain the pain and complications that can accompany declawing surgery, even if performed as a last resort to prevent euthanizing a cat with problem behaviors.

If the bill passes, New Jersey would be the first state to completely ban declawing. Several cities in California have recently passed declawing bans and the state of New York is also considering a statewide ban.

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.