TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey law allowing terminally ill patients to seek life-ending drugs went into effect Thursday.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy had signed the bill in April, making New Jersey the seventh state with such a measure. Maine enacted a similar law in June, becoming the eighth.
The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act in New Jersey allows only patients who are terminally ill and have a prognosis of six months or less to live to acquire medication to end their lives.
Lawmakers tried for years going back to at least 2012 to advance the legislation.
The legislation has several measures that legislators called “safeguards,” including requiring patients to make two requests and allowing them a chance to rescind the request.
A closer look at the law:
How it works
The law requires two doctors to sign off on the request and that the terminally ill patient be deemed an adult resident of New Jersey who can make such a decision and who voluntarily expresses a wish to die.
It requires patients to request the medication twice and says they must be given a chance to rescind the decision. At least one of the requests must be in writing and signed by two witnesses.
At least one witness cannot be a relative, entitled to any portion of the person’s estate, the owner of the health care facility where the patient is getting treatment or a worker there, or be the patient’s doctor.
Under the law, patients must administer the drug to themselves, and his or her attending physician would be required to offer other treatment options, including palliative care.
How the measure became law
Lawmakers tried since as early as 2012 to advance the legislation, but lawmakers and former Republican Gov. Chris Christie had expressed concerns over the measure.
Ultimately, the measure passed with the minimum number of yes votes in both the Democrat-led Assembly and Senate.
Even Murphy expressed some reluctance about enacting the law, saying in a message that while his Catholic faith might lead him not end his own life if he were terminally ill, he wouldn’t deny the choice to others.
The effort got attention in New Jersey in 2014 when a California woman got news coverage when she and her husband moved to Portland, Oregon, so she could use that state’s law to end her life on her own terms. Brittany Maynard, 29, was terminally ill with brain cancer.
Her husband, Dan Diaz, has been in Trenton pushing for New Jersey’s law and praised lawmakers when it passed, saying residents wouldn’t have to leave their homes “to secure the option of a gentle dying process.”
Oregon in 1997 was the first state to provide an end-of-life option. In addition to Maine and Oregon, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia all have similar legislation. Montana does not have a law permitting medically assisted suicide for the terminally ill. However, a 2009 Montana Supreme Court ruling determined that nothing in state law prevented a physician from prescribing such a drug to terminally ill person
How it’s been received
Opponents, including the state’s Catholic Conference, worry that the law could hurt the most vulnerable people in the state.
In a statement this week, Kristen Hanson, a community relations advocate with the anti-medically assisted suicide group Patients Rights Action Fund, said the law taking effect was a “tragic day” for the poor, elderly and those with disabilities.
“They will be the first to suffer from this reckless law through mistakes, coercion and abuse,” she said.
Supporters say the new law permits terminally ill patients the chance to end their lives with dignity.