New Jersey Approves Aid-in-Dying Law

By: - March 26, 2019 12:00 am

New Jersey is joining seven other states and Washington, D.C., in allowing terminally ill patients to obtain lethal drugs to legally end their own lives.

Both New Jersey legislative chambers passed a medical aid-in-dying measure, which had failed in previous years. It is now headed to the desk of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who said he will sign it.

“Allowing terminally ill and dying residents the dignity to make end-of-life decisions according to their own consciences is the right thing to do,” Murphy said. “I look forward to signing this legislation into law.”

Oregon was the first state to implement an aid-in-dying law in 1998, and similar measures have been enacted in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C., most of them since 2015. (Aid-in-dying is also legal in Montana as a result of a 2009 court ruling.) Legislatures in numerous other states, including Maryland, Nevada and New York, are considering aid-in-dying legislation this year.

The New Jersey measure is similar to laws adopted in other states. It authorizes physicians to prescribe lethal medications to terminally ill patients who would be required to administer them without assistance.

Patients eligible to receive the drugs must have a terminal diagnosis, confirmed by a second doctor, with an expectation that they will die within six months. The patient must make two verbal requests within 15 days to a doctor. They also must submit a written request indicating that they have been fully informed of available alternatives, such as palliative care. The declaration must be witnessed by two people, who would attest that the person acted voluntarily. At least one of those witnesses must be someone other than a family member.

Terminally ill patients and family members testified in favor of the New Jersey bill. Opponents objected on religious or ethical grounds, and some warned that people with disabilities could be pressured by others into taking their own lives under the law.

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Michael Ollove

Michael Ollove covers health care for Stateline. Ollove worked for many years at The Baltimore Sun, as an enterprise reporter and an editor.