On Monday, March 25, 2019, the NJ Legislature passed the “Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act”. Governor Murphy has stated he will sign the bill. The law may take effect this summer if Murphy approves the bill in the coming weeks.
New Jersey will become the eighth state to allow terminally ill patients with a prognosis of less than six months to live to end their lives after a doctor prescribes a lethal drug.
It is important to note what the Aid in Dying law does not allow. The law does not permit mercy killing, euthanasia or assisted suicide. Also, the legislation contains several protections designed to keep patients from pursuing aid in dying in a fit of despair, or through coercion.
The individual patient must make the request and the patient must be deemed legally competent in order to make a valid request. Therefore, a guardian or agent under a health care proxy or health care power of attorney cannot make the request of the physician on behalf of the patient. Also, the patient would have to make at least two oral requests and one written request to a physician, and physicians would have to wait 48 hours after receiving a request before writing a prescription for life-ending drugs.
The physician would have to give the patient a chance to rescind the request, and a consulting physician would be asked to certify the diagnosis and reaffirm the patient is capable of making the decision.
There are also rules that would prohibit certain family members from serving as witnesses for those requests, including requiring at least one witness who is not a relative or named in the person’s will be present when request is made. Patients would also be screened for depression or other psychological impairments that would prohibit them from obtaining life-ending medication.
Any action taken by a health care professional to participate in the process “shall be voluntary.”
Additionally, the patient must be a New Jersey resident. Therefore, a Pennsylvania resident who is seen by a NJ doctor would not meet the “qualified patient” test.
Critics of the bill warn that disabled and vulnerable people may now face pressure from unscrupulous family members or caretakers to terminate their lives. The Catholic Church calls the bill “an affront to human life”.
Time will tell whether the proponents or the critics of the bill are proven correct. What is clear is that once the Governor signs the bill into law, competent, terminal ill NJ residents will have an additional option regarding their end of life care