New Jersey’s top court declined to overturn a judge’s order preventing implementation of the state’s physician-assisted suicide law, instead sending the matter to the Appellate Division for a ruling on whether the measure should be struck down.
The Supreme Court said in an order Tuesday it would not lift last week’s temporary restraining order issued by Mercer County Judge Paul Innes against the “Aid in Dying” law, which would have allowed physicians to prescribe life-ending medications to certain terminally ill patients so that they may end their own lives.
Innes sided with Dr. Yoseff Glassman of Bergenfield, who wants the measure invalidated. He argues that the state has not adopted enough regulations for the law which went into effect on Aug. 1.
The Office of Attorney General Gurbir Grewal – in a response filed Tuesday with the Appellate Division – argued that lawmakers inserted ample regulations and guidelines of the new law.
But even if they did not, Innes lacked any legal authority to issue the restraining order, the OAG said.
“The trial court overstepped its bounds and violated fundamental principles of separation of powers,” reads the legal filing by Deputy Attorney General Francis Baker.
Grewal’s office argued on Tuesday and last week that Innes’ order has thrown the lives of at least one terminally ill patient – who had planned to request the prescription – and that family in flux because doctors could now face civil and criminal liability if they do not follow the court’s order.
“Terminally ill patients who have taken steps pursuant to the act, with the expectation that they would be able to bring about their humane and dignified death today, will be unable to do so,” Deputy Attorney General Stephen Slocum argued in pleadings filed last week. “This disruption will irreparably harm such patients’ mental well-being and force them to continue in the intense suffering, pain, and indignity of terminal illness.”
But the Supreme Court said more legal scrutiny is necessary.
“The parties have not yet had the opportunity to brief, either before the Appellate Division or this Court, whether the restraints imposed should remain in place; and that an issue of this magnitude requires thoughtful consideration,” the Court said.
Both sides have until Aug. 23 to submit briefs, according to the order. Baker’s filing is seeking the appellate court dissolve Innes’ order and restore the “status quo” of the law going into effect as originally planned.
Glassman – a practicing member of the Jewish faith – argued that the law violates his religious and moral beliefs.
Even if he did not participate in the end-of-life treatments, Glassman contends he would still be forced to take part by handing over medical records to a doctor who would actually issue the prescription.
Proponents of the law argue that those medical records are the sole property of the patient and that the doctor has no legal grounds to withhold them from a physician the patient might see.
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 provides for a 15-day waiting period after the patient requests the medication before a doctor can write a prescription. Patients must also demonstrate that they are mentally sound and not being coerced into making the decision. The patient must self-administer the medication.
Religious organizations and GOP lawmakers have opposed the bill, which passed the Senate by the minimum 21 votes and 41 votes in the Assembly.
Glassman’s lawyer, E. David Smith, also suggested that the law creates a slippery slope. The minimum age for requesting the prescription might be lowered, for example.
“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.
“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 an Aug. 19 news conference.