Right to Die Law

About the Law

On Thursday, New Jersey’s right to die law goes into effect which allows adults with a prognosis of six months or less to live to get a prescription for life-ending medication.

Known as the “Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act” , this law allows mentally sound Garden State residents with six months or fewer left to live request a cocktail of drugs to end their lives.

Advocates lobbied nearly eight years to pass the law in New Jersey. Their cause went from near hopeless to hopeful after Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy took office in January 2018. Murphy signed the law in April.

A total 3,478 people in the US have also been allowed to end their lives under death-with-dignity laws passed in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, according to information compiled by NJ.com.

Maine’s law goes into effect in September.

In addition, California and Montana have “right to die” protections in place mandated by court rulings.

The Real Process

The law applies to adults who have received a terminal diagnosis — defined as an incurable, irreversible and medically confirmed disease that will end the person’s life within six months.

Patients must prove their residency by providing physicians with a valid state-issued ID, voter registration, recent New Jersey tax filing or “any other government record that the attending physician reasonably believes to demonstrate the individual’s current residency in this State,” according to the law.

Patients will have to ask their doctor twice over the span of 15 days and submit a request in writing stating they had been “fully informed” of palliative care, pain control and other alternatives. A second physician would need to verify the diagnosis. A mental health professional may be called in to consult.

The law includes recommended language for the written request: “I understand the full import of this request, and I expect to die if and when I take the medication to be prescribed,” according to an excerpt. “I further understand that, although most deaths occur within three hours, my death may take longer and my physician has counseled me about this possibility.”

The written declaration must be witnessed by two people who attest that the patient is acting voluntarily. One of the two witnesses cannot be a person who stands to financially gain from the patient’s death or the patient’s doctor or nursing home employee.

These “stop-gaps” should ensure no one feels pressured to die and no one rushes into making such an important decision. 

Final Thoughts

The question of whether patients should be allowed to end their own lives has become increasingly pressing as medical technology’s ability to keep people physically alive has outpaced its ability to provide an acceptable quality of life while doing so.

What are your thoughts?