TRENTON, N.J. — Lawmakers in New Jersey have passed legislation that would allow terminally ill patients to request a lethal prescription to hasten their death. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy says that he intends to sign the measure into law.
The state Assembly passed S.1072, also known as the “Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act,” 41-33 on Monday, with the Senate following with a 21-16 vote the same day.
The bill declares that New Jersey “affirms the right of a qualified terminally ill patient, protected by appropriate safeguards, to obtain medication that the patient may choose to self-administer in order to bring about the patient’s humane and dignified death.”
It describes the offering as “compassionate medical aid in dying,” and points to statistics from other states to contend that most were in hospice when the request to end their battle was issued.
According to the legislation, adults age 18 and older who are “in the terminal stage of an irreversibly fatal illness, disease, or condition with a prognosis, based upon reasonable medical certainty, of a life expectancy of six months or less” may make an oral request to die, followed by a written request signed by two witnesses.
At least one of the witnesses may not be a relative or entitled to any benefit upon the person’s death, or an employee at the health care facility where the patient is receiving treatment.
The attending physician must advise the patient of “feasible alternatives to taking the medication, including, but not limited to, concurrent or additional treatment opportunities, palliative care, comfort care, hospice care, and pain control,” and refer to another doctor for a second diagnosis and prognosis before providing the patient an opportunity to rescind his or her request.
The physician must also refer the individual to a mental health professional if there is doubt that the patient is “capable” of making the decision due to impaired judgment from depression or a psychological condition. The doctor is prohibited from issuing the fatal prescription without a written notice from a psychiatrist or psychologist that the person is capable of making the request to die.
Bill sponsor Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, who is also behind the push to legalize recreational marijuana in the state, remarked in a statement that he believes the legislation is important because “[t]here is no good reason for [patients] to be forced to prolong their pain and suffering or to prolong the grief of their loved ones if they make that choice.”
However, a group of doctors in New Jersey state that the focus should be on the already-existing pain management offerings available, and cite numerous concerns with the ramifications of legalizing physician-assisted suicide.
“It is true that doctors should do more to control physical symptoms and psychosocial issues at the end of life. Increasing education and training in palliative and hospice care is the appropriate way to accomplish that,” wrote Denise Scaringe-Dietrich and Ana Gomes in an op-ed for NJ.com.
“Caring for patients physically, emotionally and spiritually at the end-of-life, not assisting in their suicide, is where our resources should be allocated.”
They also noted that pain is not the top reason why most terminally ill patients choose to die.
“The top three reasons listed [according to statistics from Oregon] are loss of enjoyment in usual activities, burden to family and loss of autonomy,” Scaringe-Dietrich and Gomes outlined. “These are serious and important social issues that need careful multidisciplinary attention, psychological care, and skilled physician interventions.”
17 other doctors supported the post opposing physician-assisted suicide.
Gov. Murphy has said that he will sign the bill into law.
“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,” he remarked in a statement. “I look forward to signing this legislation into law.”
New Jersey will now become the eighth state to legalize the practice, joining California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Hawaii and Montana. Physician-assisted suicide is also legal in Washington, D.C.
Psalm 31:15 says, “My times are in Thy hand.” Job 14:5 also teaches that man’s “days are determined” and “the number of his months are with Thee.” Ecclesiastes 3:2 similarly says that there is “[a] time to be born, and a time to die,” and Hebrews 9:27 outlines that “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”