NJ to let doctors help patients end own lives; Murphy to sign bill
A measure that would let doctors help terminally ill patients end their own lives is now before Gov. Phil Murphy — for the first time since such a measure was introduced in 2012.
Murphy is expected to sign the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Act, approved by the state Senate 21-16 and the Assembly 41-33 on Monday.
“This measure is about dignity," Murphy said after the vote. "Senator (Nicholas) Scutari and Assemblyman (John) Burzichelli should be commended for sponsoring this bill that will make us a more dignified and empathetic state.
He said allowing terminally ill and dying residents the chance to control their own lives' ends is "the right thing to do."
"I look forward to signing this legislation into law,” Murphy said.
The bill is intended to allow those with less than six months of life expectancy remaining, and the capacity to decide for themselves, to seek medical assistance to end their lives.
"There is no good reason for them to be forced to prolong their pain and suffering or to prolong the grief of their loved ones if they make that choice," Scutari, D-Union, said in a statement from his office.
Senate President Steve Sweeney called the decision to end one's own life a "highly personal" one that should be made in consultation with doctors and others a patient chooses to involve in the process, including family members and religious advisers.
"The law should respect their decision," he said.
Before a patient could request and be prescribed life-ending medication, the patient would first need to have a prognosis of six months or less to live. Only adults deemed capable and determined by an attending physician to have an irreversible, terminal condition would qualify. The patient would have to verbally request a prescription, then do so again at least 15 days later, and the physician would have to give the patient a chance to rescind the request.
Another request would have to be made in writing, signed by two witnesses. The measure also puts restrictions on the nature of the witness' relationship to the patient.
The consulting physician would also have to certify the original diagnoses and reaffirm the patient is capable of making decisions. The physician would have to recommend a consultation for other treatment options, including hospice care and pain control.
The bill wouldn't allow physicians to administer life-ending drugs, but would require patients to administer the drugs themselves.
“This is about revisiting a statute last looked at in 1978 that never took into account an individual’s right to control their body and their circumstances,” Burzichelli, D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland, said. “Like society, medicine, palliative care and hospice services have changed dramatically since then. While there are many choices available right now that may be right for certain people, there is one more choice, not currently available, that deserves an honest discussion.”
At a hearing last month, Lindsay Tuman, coordinator of a career-mentoring program at the DAWN Center for Independent Living, said the bill raises real fears for people with disabilities.
“This legislation will place more crucial decisions on health care providers, insurance companies and caregivers, leaving individuals with disabilities even more vulnerable,” Tuman said.
Nevada doctor Brian Callister said at the hearing two of his terminally ill patients were denied experimental treatment coverage by insurers who instead suggested physician-assisted suicide.
“This is not about freedom and autonomy and choice,” Callister said. “This limits your freedom. It limits your access to care. And it decreases your ability to obtain life-saving care.”
Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, said research shows overall suicide rates are higher in states where physician-assisted suicide is legal for the terminally ill.
“Even if one young person now sees suicide as an acceptable way out of their depression or other condition because of the passage of this bill, then I ask you: Is this a public policy worth pursuing?” Deo said.
However, suicides have been increasing in many states, and the study cited says the association isn’t statistically significant.
-- With past reporting by Michael Symons.
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