State officials are asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to end a judge’s halt on implementing the state’s “Aid in Dying” law, which will allow physician-assisted suicide of certain terminally ill patients.
Last week Mercer County Judge Paul Innes sided with a Bergan county physician, Dr. Yoseff Glassman of Bergenfield, who wanted the law declared unconstitutional and struck down, making the argument that the state has not yet rolled out enough regulations for the law, which went into effect on Aug. 1.
The Aug. 16 appeal filed by the Office of Attorney General Gurbir Grewal asks the appeals court to lift the temporary restraining order while the lawsuit moves through the court system.
This one was not an easy one to get to, but I got convinced that it shouldn’t be the law that dictates how things end … But it should be you and your loved ones.
– Gov. Phil Murphy
Glassman and his attorney, E. David Smith of Smith & Associates, will file their own response to the appeal this week.
“We’re going to vigorously fight that injunction,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at an unrelated press conference on Aug. 15 in Edison.
“It is really hard for me, particularly given growing up as a Catholic… This one was not an easy one to get to, but I got convinced that it shouldn’t be the law that dictates how things end,” he added. “But it should be you and your loved ones.”
A hearing on the legal validity of the “Aid in Dying” law is scheduled for Oct. 23. Until then doctors will be barred from writing any lethal prescriptions.
The judge’s decision “has disrupted the status quo, creating mass confusion among physicians and terminally ill patients,” the filing reads. “This disruption will irreparably harm such patients’ mental well-being and force them to continue in the intense suffering, pain, and indignity of terminal illnesses,” it adds. “Indeed, the attorney general is aware of one such family who was denied a prescription today based on the trial court’s order.
Under the measure – formally called the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, signed by Murphy in April – a doctor can prescribe life-ending medicine to someone with a terminal illness who has no more than six months to live. The measure requires a 15-day waiting period between when the patient requests the medication and when the doctor can write a prescription. Patients have to demonstrate that they are mentally sound and not being coerced into making the decision.
“What we believe [this law] is creating is a separate category of human beings, a life unworthy of life,” Smith said at a Monday press conference in Trenton.
Smith alleged that the law ran afoul of a 1976 Karen Ann Quinn New Jersey Supreme Court decision, wherein a comatose patient was taken off of life support, and that the ruling mandated that life-ending medication cannot be prescribed by doctors.
Additionally, Smith contested that a mandate that a doctor who refuses to take part in the life-ending procedure would still be required to hand over the patient’s medical records to a person seeking the option essentially coerces the doctor to take part in the process. Smith also alluded to a sort of slippery slope if the law continues. The minimum age for requesting the prescription might be lowered, for example.
“Once the process starts, it can grow and grow, the restrictions become lax, there’s no telling where it will stop,” Assemblyman Robert Auth, R-39th District, said at the Monday press conference.
“Family members might put this on… granny’s apple sauce,” Smith said. Or doctors and other medical staff, as well as the patient’s family, might find ways to circumvent the patient’s opposition to ending their own life. Without offering proof, he alleged that similar scenarios have already played out in Oregon and the Netherlands.
The measure has drawn considerable opposition, such as from the American Medical Society. The state Legislature narrowly approved the measure in both the Assembly and Senate. And, Auth unveiled his own legislation that would repeal the aid in dying law.
“That is not something that should be engaged in,” Auth said.
The points of the lawsuit were heavily disputed by one of the main sponsors of the bill, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-3rd District, who said the suit was an “eleventh-hour” effort to halt the measure.
The patient records, Burzichelli contended, are the property of the patient, and a doctor – who might be opposed to assisted suicide –would have no legal grounds for withholding those records from another physician who might engage in the process, Burzichelli told NJBIZ.
And, the legislation was meticulous and clear in crafting its wording by which state officials and physicians must adhere to when prescribing life-ending medication – contrary to the argument that there had not been enough regulations governing the law, according to Burzichelli.
“Nothing new was offered by Glassman’s attorney at today’s press conference,” Burzichelli added in a statement. “The details he discussed today have all been addressed as we worked nearly seven years to refine the legislation.”