Terminally Ill Patients Turn to New Jersey’s New Medical Aid in Dying Law

By: - May 19, 2021 12:00 am

New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signs the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act in 2019. In 2020, 33 people took advantage of the law. New Jersey Office of the Governor /The Associated Press

Thirty-three New Jersey residents with terminal illnesses took advantage of the state’s new Medical Aid in Dying law to hasten their deaths in 2020, according to a report from the state medical examiner.

The report covers the first full calendar year that the law was in effect after its passage in 2019. The document, required annually, provides a detailed picture of the characteristics of those who chose to end their lives in accordance with the law.

Of the people who ended their lives under the law in 2020, 64% were men, 94% were White, and 52% were at least 75 years old. More than half were married, and two-thirds had earned at least a college degree (one-third had master’s degrees and more than 15% had doctorate or professional degrees).

Nearly three-quarters of people who used the law in 2020 had cancer. More than 9 out of 10 died at home. 

Nine states and Washington, D.C., now have aid-in-dying statutes, many of which share requirements. To qualify, a patient must be over 18, be deemed by doctors to have six months or less to live and be determined to mentally be able to make such a decision.

Patients are required to make their requests both orally and in writing and wait through specified periods of time before they can receive prescriptions for the medications that will end their lives. The laws require the patients to take the drugs themselves. Doctors do not administer them.

In New Jersey, 12 people took their lives under the law from August 2019, when the measure took effect, to the end of that year, bringing the number of people who had hastened their deaths to 45 by the end of 2020.

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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.