At least 12 terminally ill New Jersey residents have ended their own lives under the state’s new aid-in-dying law which went into effect one year ago.
The government released new data Friday offering the first official summary of how the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act has played out in the state.
The report shows from August 1, 2019, when the law went into effect, through December 31, 12 people ended their lives under the provisions of the law.
They were between the ages of 50 and 93. Six were men and six were women, according to the Department of Health report.
Seven of them had cancer, the state’s second most common cause of death after heart disease, and three had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS. Nine of them had a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Ten of the 12 died at home, one passed at a nursing home and one in another person’s home, health officials said. Eleven were white and one was Asian.
According to the report most of the patients took cocktails of multiple drugs. The law requires patients to self-administer the drugs.
‘New Jersey’s law empowers terminally-ill residents to make their own end-of-life choices humanely and with respect and dignity,’ Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said in a statement to the New Jersey Herald.
The controversial law passed on March 25, 2019 after nearly seven years debate and challenges in court.
The law allows doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients who have six months or less left to live. It also protects doctors and pharmacists who prescribe the medication from criminal charges and has a framework to protect against abuse.
Two doctors must confirm a terminal diagnosis and patients must request the medication twice verbally and once in writing. All verbal requests must be at least 15 days apart.
Before Friday’s numbers it was not known how many people obtained medication through the law.
In New Jersey 42 medical centers, hospitals and hospices adopted policies to allow doctors to participate in the aid-in-dying legislation, according to Compassion and Choices.
Patients who support the law say it gives them control over the last days of their life and peace of mind.
‘Since the law took effect, I have felt free to enjoy the rest of my life without worrying about needlessly suffering in agony when it ends,’ Susan Boyce, a resident of Rumson, said in a statement to advocacy group Compassion & Choices.
She has Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, which limits her lung function and requires her to use an oxygen tank.
‘For the last year, up until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I have been traveling with my family and enjoying outdoor activities like camping. Before the law passed, I didn’t have the peace of mind to do that,’ she added.
Today there’s still an ethical debate over the implications of helping patients die. Religious leaders have voiced their opposition to the law.
Gov. Phil Muphy signed the bill into law last year but noted it wasn’t an easy decision as his faith conflicted his decision.
‘After careful consideration, internal reflection and prayer, I have concluded that, while my faith may lead me to a particular decision for myself, as a public official I cannot deny this alternative to those who may reach a different conclusion,’ Murphy wrote in April 2019.
Similar versions of the law have been in effect for over two decades in different states.
Oregon was the first to approve such a measure in 1998. Washington state followed in 2008.
Today medical aid in dying is legal in 10 jurisdictions: California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
According to a 2018 Gallup poll 72 percent of Americans supported laws that allowed patients to receive medical aid in ending their lives.
However, medical aid in dying is distinct from helping someone commit the act of suicide, which is prohibited by status in 42 states.