Judge Puts Hold on Aid in Dying Law in New Jersey

The judge's order came after North Jersey doctor Yosef Glassman filed a lawsuit seeking to block the law on grounds it violates constitutional rights as well as common law barring suicide.
by | August 19, 2019 AT 7:53 AM

By David Levinsky

A Superior Court judge has put a hold on New Jersey's new law allowing terminally ill patients to receive life-ending drugs.

Judge Paul Innes, presiding judge in Mercer County's vicinage, issued a temporary restraining order Thursday barring doctors from prescribing lethal drugs under the law. The next hearing in the case is Oct. 23.

The judge's order came after North Jersey doctor Yosef Glassman filed a lawsuit seeking to block the law on grounds it violates constitutional rights as well as common law barring suicide.

The law, known as the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, allows New Jersey patients who are terminally ill and have a prognosis of six months or less to live to obtain medication to end their lives. It took effect Aug. 1.

Though Department of Health regulations related to the law are still being formed, the agency did post some guidance for patients and medical providers on its website.

New Jersey is one of eight states that have enacted similar laws across the country. It was not immediately known if the other laws have faced legal challenges.

Gov. Phil Murphy, who signed the law in April, promised the state would fight to defend the law.

"We're going to vigorously fight that injunction. This one was really a hard one for me, particularly growing up as a Catholic," Murphy said at an unrelated event in Middlesex. "This was not an easy one to get to. But I got convinced it shouldn't be the law that dictates how things end. It should be you and your loved ones, particularly given what I would call broadly multiple layers of belts and suspenders."

Among the so-called safeguards in the law, it require patients suffering from a terminal disease to verbally make two requests of their attending physician for lethal medication, followed by a written third request signed by two witnesses, including one who is not a relative of the patient.

Physicians would be required to provide patients seeking the terminal drug information about alternative end-of-life treatment and offer the chance to rescind their request. Also, a second consulting physician is required to certify the original diagnosis and that the patient is able to make the decision and was not coerced.

Doctors and pharmacists are not required to participate with the law, although they are expected to refer patients to another physician if they do not.

Murphy said the protections were an important part of why he ultimately agreed to sign the legislation.

"The thing I had to be convinced of beyond the philosophical and deeply emotional and personal part of this ... is to make sure somebody couldn't just go off and make this decision. And that's not the case with this law," the governor said.

The legislation was first introduced by Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-3 of Paulsboro, back in 2012 but never reached the governor's desk until this year. Religious groups strongly opposed it, but the measure was advanced by lawmakers to Murphy in March by a 41-32 vote in the Assembly and a 21-16 vote in the Senate.

"Over many years, we've heard profoundly emotional stories of patients and families who advocated for this law. It is truly unfortunate that those qualified terminally ill patients who may have sought relief under the new law may be suffering while (this) matter is resolved," Burzichelli said Thursday.

The issue of providing lethal doses of medication to terminal patients gained national attention in 2014 after 29-year-old Brittany Maynard moved from California to Oregon to end her life under the state's law permitting terminally ill patients to choose when they die.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

(c)2019 Burlington County Times, Willingboro, N.J.