End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

New Jersey Could Become 3rd State With Right-to-Die Lawby Sonja

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By Tina Susman
The Los Angeles Times
September 27, 2012

A New Jersey lawmaker has proposed a right-to-die law for that state’s terminally ill people which, if passed, would make the state the third in the nation after Oregon and Washington to allow those with deadly diseases the chance to end their own suffering.

The Death With Dignity Act would allow a “qualified patient to self-administer medication to end life in a humane and dignified manner,” said the bill, introduced this week by Democratic Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester). But as the Star-Ledger noted, it would not be easy to qualify to receive life-ending drugs.

An individual who has six months or less to live would have to make at least two verbal requests and one written request — with two witnesses on hand for the written request — before he or she could receive the medication. Two doctors would have to certify the terminal diagnosis, and those doctors would be required to send the patient for counseling. The bill in its current form also says voter approval would be needed for the law to take effect as it is now written.

Burzichelli said he expects lengthy debate on the bill. “This is the beginning of discussing a topic … we’ve got to get a sense of how people feel,” he said, the Star-Ledger reported. “People are not favorable to a Dr. Kevorkian suicide bill that says someone who’s 45 and depressed and decides to kill themselves with help. That’s not what this bill is.”

Jack Kevorkian, who became known as Dr. Death, was a Michigan doctor who helped some of his patients kill themselves in the 1990s, sparking a nationwide debate over a terminally ill patient’s right to die. He served eight years in prison for second-degree murder for administering a lethal injection; he claimed to have administered such injections for more than 130 terminally ill people. He died last year at the age of 83 in a hospital.

Despite the controversy over his methods, Kevorkian is seen as opening up discussion of the  debate over whether terminally ill people should have the right to plan and expedite their own deaths. Both Oregon and Washington state now have laws permitting terminally ill patients to receive prescriptions for life-ending drugs, with conditions attached that are similar to those proposed in the New Jersey bill.

Since the Oregon law took effect in 1997, the state says 935 people have requested life-ending drugs and 596 have died as a result of ingesting them. In Washington, where that state’s law took effect in 2009, 253 patients have received drugs and 213 have died after ingesting them.

An attempt in Montana to permit the practice has been bogged down in legal issues.

Under New Jersey law, as in most states, it is considered a crime to purposefully help another person commit suicide.