NJ’s assisted dying law for terminally ill survives legal challenge

New Jersey’s 2019 law allowing doctors to prescribe drugs to terminally ill people they can take to end their lives – used by at least 95 patients so far – has been upheld by a court state call.

The Superior Court’s Appellate Division upheld a ruling on Friday that dismissed a challenge to the state’s law on physician-assisted dying for terminal illness. The appeal ruling said the constitutional and religious arguments of the doctor and pharmacist who challenged the law were “without merit”.

Patients who have invoked the law to end their lives have done so “without, to our knowledge, a single family member or interested party objecting to these unquestionably difficult end-of-life decisions,” said the decision delivered by Judge Arnold L. Natali Jr. “No report has surfaced that any person has used the law for any improper or unlawful purpose.”

The challengers, Dr. Yosef Glassman, a geriatrician and rabbi who said he was motivated by his Orthodox Jewish faith; Anthony Tetro, a terminally ill patient; and Manish Pujara, a Hindu pharmacist, were represented by E. David Smith, a Bloomfield lawyer and rabbi.

In an interview shortly after filing the trialGlassman said he “firmly believes[d] that helping someone end their life is murder, and I refuse to participate in something like that. He and Smith compared the law to euthanasia and suggested it would open the doors to mass murder.

Glassman said even transferring a patient’s medical records would violate their right to practice their religion because it would aid a suicide if the patient sought assistance from another doctor to use the medical assistance in dying law. .

Support for the appeal was requested online via Lifeline Legal Funda nonprofit whose other causes included litigation to end travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic and a “public health war” to end vaccine and mask mandates and bans on large gatherings.

It has not been determined whether the plaintiffs will appeal to the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Smith did not respond to a request for comment.

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The trial court, in Judge Robert Lougy’s decision which was upheld by the appeals judges, ruled that Glassman and the others lacked standing to challenge the law because they were not directly affected by it. Participation is completely voluntary and doctors are already required to transfer patient records upon request, the judges wrote.

They rejected constitutional arguments and wrote that analogies to Hitler and Nazi Germany were “inappropriate, insensitive… [and] does not deserve to be addressed at any level.

The decision was welcomed by Compassion and choicea nonprofit group advocating for expanded and improved options for end-of-life care that defended the New Jersey law in oral arguments and a friend of the court brief.

“Terminally ill New Jerseyans should be able to decide for themselves if they want the option of medical assistance in dying to end their suffering, based on their experiences, values ​​and beliefs,” Jessica said. Pezley, attorney for the nonprofit. “No one’s religious beliefs should dictate the health care options someone else should have to alleviate their suffering at the very end of their life.

Dr. Paul Bryman of Delair, a hospice and palliative care doctor who was featured in the friend of the court brief, said he was ‘very happy the court made the right decision and that I can continue to help terminally ill people. who want to use medical assistance in dying to end their suffering peacefully.

New Jersey is one of 10 states, along with Washington, DC, that currently allow doctors to prescribe drugs to mentally capable and terminally ill people who may choose to ingest them to end their lives. Two doctors must confirm the diagnosis and agree that the patient has less than six months to live.

Additional safeguards in New Jersey law include a 15-day waiting period between the patient’s first request for an end-of-life drug and the issuance of the prescription, and a requirement that patients apply twice. verbally, at fortnightly intervals, and once in writing. . A physician advisor must confirm that the patient is capable and acting voluntarily.

The law was passed in April 2019, after seven years of debate, by a single vote in each house of the state legislature, and signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy. It was signed into law in August of the same year and suspended for three weeks due to the legal challenge.

Last year, 50 patients used the law to end their lives, according to the annual report filed by the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner. Three other people received the drug but had not been reported to the state medical examiner as dead as of Dec. 31, and five people requested and received the drug but died without having used it.

Of those who used the law, 27 were women and 23 were men; 47 were white and three were of Asian descent. Twenty-four were 75 or older. The vast majority suffered from cancer. All but three died at home.

Middlesex County had the highest number of cases, with 11, followed by Bergen with eight and Somerset with five, according to the report. All were residents of New Jersey, by law.

In the five months the law was in effect in 2019, 12 people used it. In 2020, another 33 people used it, according to the report.

Lindy Washburn is senior healthcare reporter for NorthJersey.com. To keep up to date with how changes in healthcare are affecting you and your family, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @lindywa

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