NJ Assisted Suicide law goes into effect 8/1/19 – A Truly Sad Day for the Garden State

Note to our website visitors:

Below is an article on NJ’s Assisted Suicide law which goes into effect on 8/1/19.  At the urging of the pro-death lobbying group, Compassion & Choices, sponsors of the legislation agreed to change the title of  the legislation to the “NJ Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act” to make it more palatable and marketable to the public. In reality, the Act legalizes Assisted Suicide and does not  “Aid”  in anyone’s “Dying,” rather, it hastens a person’s death and is intended to do so.

In addition, the NJ Assisted Suicide law’s “so-called” safeguards are hollow. The Act is riddled with loopholes which are a recipe for abuse.  Contrary to media reports, this law does not give patients complete autonomy and is especially dangerous for our most vulnerable populations.  The legislation passed by the narrowest of margins (by only one vote) in each of the Houses of the NJ Legislature.

Shortly after the bill narrowly passed both Houses of the Legislature by the slimmest of margins, Asm. Robert Auth (R-39)  introduced A5525, a bill to Repeal the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act and A5469, a bill which makes it a crime of the first degree to coerce a patient to request medication pursuant to the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, or to forge a patient’s request for such medication.

Action Needed: We are grateful to Assemblyman Auth and the legislators who co-sponsored these bills and ask that you contact your State Senator and two Assembly Members to urge them to support and co-sponsor A5525 and A5469.  Thank you.

How did your Two State Assembly Members Vote? Click on the red hyperlink below to find out

A1504/S1072 Assembly Vote

How did your State Senator vote?  Click on red hyperlink below to find out 

A1504/S1072 Senate Vote

 

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NJ doctors can help terminally ill patients die beginning today

Stacey Barchenger, North Jersey RecordPublished 5:06 a.m. ET Aug. 1, 2019

Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill making New Jersey the eighth state to allow terminally ill residents to end their lives with medical help. Michael V. Pettigano and Nicholas Pugliese, North Jersey Record

Janet Colbert made talking about death, a taboo topic, a normal part of her life.

When the retired oncology nurse received her own diagnosis — it was a rare form of liver cancer — in 2013, she began advocating that doctors should be allowed to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients.

It was an option she wanted for herself.

“I feel that it would just give me so much more peace of mind,” Colbert said in 2015, just months before her death.

Today, four years later, it becomes legal for New Jersey doctors to prescribe lethal medication to patients with less than six months to live. New Jersey is one of eight states that allow what is called medically assisted suicide or medical aid in dying, depending on what side of the controversial issue you are on.

Even as advocates welcome the law for which they’ve fought for years, and declare victory for patients’ rights, there remains uncertainty within the medical profession about carrying it out.

The state boards that license doctors, pharmacists, mental health professionals and others have yet to implement regulations called for in the law. It wasn’t until late Wednesday afternoon that the New Jersey Department of Health published requirements for doctors, who must report information such as when prescriptions are issued and when patients die from them.

“It is a life-or-death issue,” said Larry Downs, chief executive officer of the Medical Society of New Jersey, which opposed the law on ethical grounds. “Physicians would probably be wise to wait for that regulatory guidance before deciding to engage in it.”

Supporters say the law is detailed enough to allow doctors to proceed, and there are doctors who are on board, but that doesn’t mean prescriptions will be written today. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the regulatory boards, says rule-making isn’t required before the law goes into effect. Meanwhile, multiple hospital and medical associations have published extensive guidance for health care professionals.

“There are going to be doctors ready to practice on Day One, and there are going to be doctors who — it may take a patient who they’ve treated for along time to present a compelling case for them to use this law,” said Corinne Carey, who led advocacy for the New Jersey law and works for Compassion & Choices.

Other doctors, she said, may wait for additional guidance from state agencies.

What the law says

Janet Colbert has been diagnosed with a form of liver cancer sure to kill her. She’d like to see the Aid in Dying bill passed so she could end her life if her condition became unbearable. (Photo: Andrew Ford)

Formally called the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, the law comes with extensive rules and a waiting period meant to ensure that patients make informed, voluntary decisions about ending their lives.

The law stalled at least twice before in the Legislature. Supporters say sick people should have a right to end their suffering on their own terms, while opponents worry over what they say is a lack of safeguards to protect vulnerable residents. There is debate within the medical community over ethical implications of helping patients die, and religious leaders have also opposed the law.

“I think some leaders in religious communities want to paint this as patients are giving up hope,” said Susan Boyce, a 56-year-old Rumson resident and supporter of the law. Boyce suffers from an auto-immune disease that reduces her lung function.

“We are all fighting and living our lives as full as we can,” she said. “This isn’t hopelessness; this is just the desire to not suffer that last little bit that we don’t want to suffer through.

“It’s a very narrow bill. It has tight rails on it to keep it from being abused.”

Which patients qualify

Susan Boyce of Rumson, who suffers from Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, talks about what it means to her that the legislature has passed the Medical Aid in Dying bill Danielle Parhizkaran, NorthJersey

Patients with less than six months to live can request the medication. According to the law, two doctors must confirm the diagnosis of a terminal illness and that patients are capable of making a sound decision to end their lives.

Patients must be residents of New Jersey. They have to make two requests for life-ending medication at least 15 days apart, and also submit a written request that includes witness signatures.

Behind-the-scenes preparation

When Gov. Phil Murphy put pen to paper and signed the law, he also cued state agencies and health care associations and companies to roll out guidance on how to implement it.

“We knew there was a relatively short window until the enactment date,” said Theresa Edelstein, vice president of post-acute care policy and special initiatives for the New Jersey Hospital Association. “It’s been a process where we started with some basics, the explanation of the law, the summary of the law, and just started to build upon it.”

Now the hospital association has extensive resources online, including sample forms for doctors and patients and draft policies for health care professionals who opt out. The new law does not obligate doctors to prescribe lethal medication.

It’s uncertain how many doctors will act on the law — no prescriptions can be issued for at least 15 days — and it’s up to the Department of Health to collect reports from doctors about prescriptions that are issued and the number of deaths that result.

Doctors themselves are divided. A group of more than two dozen wrote in support of the law in a post on NJ.com earlier this year. Other doctors are vocal opponents.

“Assisted suicide deeply undermines the physician/patient relationship and runs counter to the physician’s oath as a healer,” Dr. Matthew Suh, a general surgery specialist in Newton, said in a statement.

Following others’ lead

New Jersey joins seven other states and Washington, D.C., in allowing doctors to write deadly prescriptions. Maine is the most recent state to approve a law, and Oregon was first, according to the Death with Dignity National Center, an Oregon-based advocacy group.

In July, the Oregon law was amended and the 15-day waiting period was removed over concern that it caused patients in deteriorating condition to suffer for longer. Over time, states have seen increasing participation, but the number of people who take lethal medication remains minuscule. Check out the chart below to learn more.

Enduring controversy

Oregon’s law has been challenged twice before the U.S. Supreme Court since it was enacted in 1994.

While other states have seen court action, none has been taken in New Jersey. Instead, opposition is coming from inside the Statehouse, where lawmakers in both the Senate and Assembly eked out — by one vote — enough support to pass the bill in March.

Four Republican assemblymen are backing a bill that would repeal the law.

Assemblyman Robert Auth, R-Bergen, introduced the bill in June alongside co-sponsors Parker Space, R-Sussex; Ronald Dancer, R-Ocean; and John DiMaio, R-Warren. Auth expressed concern that nefarious individuals would exploit the law and encourage patients to take the medication for their own gain, even though the new law includes rules to prevent that.

Garden State lawmakers, however, are off for the summer, and with Democratic majorities in the Legislature, it is unlikely the effort to repeal will go anywhere soon.

Auth raised concern that oversight bodies such as the Board of Medical Examiners haven’t yet issued guidance on complying with the law.

“There’s no protocol in place by the state,” Auth said. “It’s kind of like the wild wild west.”

Stacey Barchenger: @sbarchenger; 732-427-0114; sbarchenger@gannettnj.com