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TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) – The New Jersey Senate Health Committee approved a bill that would allow terminally ill patients, with less than six months left to live, to seek medical assistance to end their lives.
The bill, called the “Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act,” would allow adults who have the ability to make health care decisions and are diagnosed as terminally ill to obtain self-administered medication to end their lives.
The bill contains numerous boundaries and precautions to ensure the integrity and safety of the process:
• The patient must have the prognosis of six months or less to live in order to request and obtain the medication
• The patient must have a “terminal disease.” The bill defines that as an irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will result in death within six months.
• The patient must verbally request a prescription from their doctor, followed by a second verbal request 15 days later.
• The physician must offer the patient a chance to withdraw the request.
• A consulting physician would be called upon to confirm the original diagnosis and ensure the patient is able to make this decision.
• Only the patient can administer the drug to themselves but at least one witnesses must be present. The witness cannot be a family member, entitled to any portion of the estate of the patient, an owner, operator, or employee of a health care facility where the patient receives treatment, or the patient’s physician.
• The physician must recommend the patient participates in a consultation concerning additional treatment opportunities, palliative care, comfort care, hospice care, and pain control options, and provide the patient with a referral to a health care professional qualified to discuss the options.
• These requirements must be documented in the patient’s medical record and state whether the patient chose to participate in the consultation and if the patient is receiving palliative, comfort or hospice care.
The legislation is sponsored by state Sens. Nicholas Scutari and Richard Codey.
“This is the humane and dignified process that respects the free will of terminally ill patients,” said Scutari. “We should permit qualified patients to make the decision to end their own life in a dignified manner. There is no good reason for them to be forced to prolong their pain and suffering or to prolong the grief of their loved ones if they make that choice.”
“This bill will allow people to make the most informed decision at the most pivotal moment of their lives,” said Codey. “Rather than waiting for the inevitable in pain and misery, this bill gives terminally ill patients the choice to meet their end on their own terms. We cannot prevent them from dying, but we can at least allow them to do it with dignity.”
Physician aid in dying is currently legal in seven other dates and Washington, D.C.
This bill has been modeled after Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act,” which has been in effect for 15 years.
This bill was approved with a 6-3 vote by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.