Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill

As of August 1, 2019, New Jersey has a law allowing capable, terminally ill adult patients to end their lives.  Known as the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, the law provides that doctors may prescribe medication to be self-administered by the terminally ill to end their lives peacefully and humanely.  The law has built-in safeguards to assure the act is voluntary and based on an informed decision.

First, the patient’s attending physician must certify that the patient is terminally ill, which means the patient is at 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 (6) months or less, and capable of making this decision.

Second, a consulting physician is brought in to confirm the diagnosis and that the patient is capable of making an informed decision.  The term capable is defined as “having the capacity to make health care decisions and to communicate them to a health care provider, including communication through persons familiar with the patient’s manner of communicating if those persons are available.”

Third, the patient, who must be a New Jersey resident must request the medication twice orally and once in writing.  The oral requests must be a least fifteen (15) days apart.  The written request must be signed by the patient and witnessed by at least two (2) people, one of whom cannot be a family member, attending physician, medical facility employee where the patient is receiving medical treatment, or entitled to receive a portion of the patient’s estate.  The form for the written request is called the “Request for Medication to End My Life in a Humane and Dignified Manner.”

After the initial request, the attending physician must consult with the patient about treatment options.  At the second oral request, the attending physician must offer the patient an opportunity to rescind the request.  At least fifteen (15) days have to have lapsed between the initial oral request and written request and two (2) days have to have lapsed between the written request and the writing of the prescription.

The medication may only be dispensed to the patient, attending physician, or identified agent of the patient.  The medication may not be mailed.  The physicians are required to complete and submit paperwork to the State documenting the decision process.  It should be clear that the law does not permit euthanasia or doctor-assisted suicide.  The patient’s Advanced Medical Directive cannot authorize the health care representative to request the life-ending medication.  Only clear thinking individuals can request the medication for themselves.  Finally, the death certificate will list the underlying disease as the cause of death.  An action taken in accordance with this act will not be considered suicide or assisted suicide.

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