TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari, Senator Richard Codey and Senate President Steve Sweeney that would create a process for terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to seek medical assistance to end their lives was approved by the Senate today.
The bill, S-1072/A-1504, entitled the “Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act,” would allow adults who have the capacity to make health care decisions and who have been determined by their physicians to be terminally ill to obtain medication that the patients may self-administer to terminate their lives.
“This is a humane and dignified process that respects the free will of terminally ill patients,” said Senator Scutari (D-Union). “We should permit qualified patients to make the decision to end their own lives in a dignified manner. 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.”
“This bill will allow people to make the most informed decision at the most pivotal moment of their lives,” said Senator Codey (D-Essex). “Rather than waiting for the inevitable in pain and misery, this bill gives terminally ill patients the choice to meet their end on their own terms. We cannot prevent them from dying, but we can at least allow them to do it with dignity.”
“This is a highly personal, end-of-life decision for those who are experiencing pain and suffering,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “They should be allowed to make that decision in consultation with doctors and others they choose to consult, including family members and religious advisers. The law should respect their decision.”
The bill contains numerous safeguards and procedures to ensure the integrity and safety of the process, including:
- A patient must have a prognosis of six months or less to live in order to request and be prescribed medication under the bill.
- The bill defines a “terminal disease” as an irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will result in a patient’s death within six months.
- It would cover: 1) an adult resident of New Jersey; 2) who is capable and has been determined by the patient’s attending physician and consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal disease; and 3) has voluntarily expressed a wish to die.
- The bill would require patients suffering from a terminal disease to first verbally request a prescription from their attending physician, followed by a second verbal request at least 15 days later.
- The attending physician would have to offer the patient a chance to rescind the request.
- A consulting physician would then be called upon to certify the original diagnosis and reaffirm the patient is capable of making a decision.
- It would also require one request in writing signed by two witnesses. A valid request for medication must be signed and dated by the patient and witnessed by at least two individuals who, in the patient’s presence, attest that the patient is capable and is acting voluntarily to sign the request.
- Only patients would be permitted to administer the drug to themselves. At least one of the witnesses must be a person who is not: 1) a relative of the patient; 2) entitled to any portion of the estate of the patient; 3) an owner, operator, or employee of a health care facility where the patient is receiving treatment, or 4) the patient’s physician.
- The bill requires that the patient’s attending physician recommend that the patient participate in a consultation concerning additional treatment opportunities, palliative care, comfort care, hospice care and pain control options, and provide the patient with a referral to a health care professional qualified to discuss these options.
- The attending physician would be required to document the recommendation in the patient’s medical record, and indicate whether the patient chose to participate in the consultation and whether the patient is receiving palliative, comfort or hospice care.
The Senate vote was 21-16.