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

About Jerry

Jerold E. Rothkoff, a practicing New Jersey and Pennsylvania attorney, is the Principal of the Rothkoff Law Group, an elder care law firm. Jerry dedicates his practice to serving clients in the areas of life care planning, long-term care planning, Medicaid & VA benefits, and advocacy for the elderly and disabled. He is past President of the NJ Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, former chair of the elder law section of the NJ State Bar Association, and past President of the Life Care Planning Law Firm Association. Jerry continues to be an outspoken advocate for the rights of the elderly and disabled. He writes for and gives presentations regularly to attorneys and other professionals about legal issues related to seniors and those with disabilities. Jerry’s community activities include the Twilight Wish Foundation, the Delaware Valley Stroke Council, the Alzheimer’s Association, as well as numerous other advocacy groups. When not in the office, Jerry spends time with his wife, Erica, and their five children, eighteen-year old identical twin girls, Liza and Julia, fifteen-year old fraternal twin boys, Evan and Gregory, and six-year old Aitan.

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