Just 7 other states, and the District of Columbia, have passed such a law before. The bill's parameters are similar to that of Hawaii's, which passed its own law last year.
New Jersey is set to become the eighth state to legalize medically-assisted suicide.
On Monday, the state legislature reached approval by the tightest margin for the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act—a bill which Gov. Phil Murphy has now pledged to sign into law.
"Allowing terminally ill and dying residents the dignity to make end-of-life decisions according to their own consciences is the right thing to do," Murphy said in a statement.
The bill, which received 21 votes in the state Senate and 41 in the Assembly—the absolute minimum count of votes required to pass each chamber—was introduced in January 2018, with sponsorship from Sen. Nicholas P. Scutari (D), Sen. Richard J. Codey (D), and Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney (D).
It would join California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Montana, the District of Columbia, and—most recently—Hawaii as the only states and districts to permit medically-assisted suicide. That said, the bill would come with strict qualifying stipulations.
Terminally ill patients who wish to receive fatal medications would need approval from 2 physicians, who must confirm the patient would have less than 6 months to live. They would also need the approval from a psychiatrist or psychologist, who would determine the patient has the mental capacity to make such a decision.
The patient must provide 2 spoken requests and 1 written request for the medication, with the latter request being witnessed by 2 people—similar to the law passed in Hawaii last year. The self-administered medication would then be provided to the patient, pending approval.
Verbatim, the bill states that it would provide the following benefits:
Dissenters from the bill expressed concerns Monday about potential physician misdiagnoses. One legislator even wondered if physicians’ role in prescribing opioids during a national epidemic should disqualify them from prescribing medication for assisted suicide.
The rhetoric among the state’s legislators echoes a national debate on medically-assisted suicide that often draws officials and healthcare providers across a wide spectrum of beliefs. For example, the American Medical Association (AMA) has stood against the practice sing the organization first released an ethical guidance 25 years ago.
“Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks,” the AMA’s Code of Medical Ethics reads.
In a column submitted to MD Magazine® last year, psychiatry professors Ronald Pies, MD, and Annette Hanson, MD, claimed the majority of support for medically-assisted suicide was founded on “several myths and misconceptions.” Among their arguments were that many patients who request assisted suicide are suffering from clinical depression, and could be properly diagnosed and treated for the condition.
“The best available evidence suggests that current practices under physician-assisted suicide statutes are not adequately monitored and do not adequately protect vulnerable populations, such as patients with clinical depression,” Pies and Hanson wrote.
In a response submission, David R. Grube, MD, National Medical Director for Compassion and Choices, shared his own firsthand experience in complying with a terminally ill patient’s assisted suicide request. He said those who have practiced medically-assisted suicide before have a different perspective “than those who theorize about it.”
“A dying patient needs respect, and our comfort,” Grube argued. “We may have thought that we were trained as “healers,” but when a cure is no longer possible, care and comfort are paramount.”