The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act What You Need to Know
On April 12 of this year, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act into law. Without getting into the details just yet, the new law allows New Jersey residents to end their own lives if doctors diagnose them with a fatal illness and only six months to live. New Jersey is now the ninth jurisdiction to allow physician-assisted suicide after the bill narrowly passed in the Senate. The law went into effect on Aug. 1. While passing this bill may seem like landmark legislation, it doesn’t come without a heavy dose of stipulations, ensuring that the new law will only apply to a narrow range of cases. If someone diagnosed with a terminal injury wanted “death with dignity,” as it is sometimes called, they would need to be at least 18 years old, a resident of New Jersey, be of sound mind, have the ability to communicate, be diagnosed with a terminal illness that gives them six months or less to live, and be able to ingest the medication themselves. They must also make two verbal requests for physician-assisted suicide within a 15-day span, and one written request on an official form. Physician-assisted suicide has been a hotly contested practice for years, and voices on both sides of the argument often have personal stakes in the outcome of right-to-die legislation. Susan Boyce of Rumson was one of the key voices in the argument to legalize it in New Jersey after being diagnosed with a slow-acting and fatal disease that will one day restrict her breathing and render her immune system ineffective at just 42 years old. Boyce, now 56, said the new law gave her peace of
mind about the end of her life. She now does not have to suffer through the pain if she chooses not to. Sarah Steele of Voorhees, however, advocated against the bill. Steele is a two-time cancer survivor, and at one point, her prognosis indicated she had three years to live. That was 13 years ago. Steele worries that whether a person lives or dies could hinge on a doctor’s educated guess. If they’re wrong, it could rob people of years, or even decades, of their lives. Diane Coleman, a woman with an advanced neuromuscular condition, also argued against physician-assisted suicide, claiming that there was no way doctors could be sure a person wasn’t being coerced after only knowing the patient for a short amount of time.
Personal autonomy and dignity at the end of life are the most common arguments for death with dignity among patients and doctors alike. However, some doctors have pointed out that this new law could prompt insurance providers to deny treatment coverage for some of society’s most vulnerable members. That being said, most Americans (72%) believe it is okay for a doctor to painlessly end a person’s life with their support and the support of their family. Whatever side of the argument you fall on, the fact still stands that New Jersey residents now have the option to end their lives through physician-assisted suicide. In light of this new legislation, it may be time to update and review your health care documents, depending on their contents at this point. If you want to know just how this new legislation might affect your estate plan, visit our website or call our office today.
“While passing this bill may seem like landmark legislation, it doesn’t come without a heavy dose of stipulations, ensuring that the new law will only apply to a narrow range of cases. ”
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