Western New Jersey

NJ law gives option for terminally ill patients to end their life

FLEMINGTON, N.J. - The right for a terminally ill patient to end their life has become a legal option in New Jersey. Although the law went into effect on Thursday, anyone wishing to exercise the option won't likely get to do so right away.

"This is really uncharted waters for New Jersey physicians," said Dr. Robert Coates, chief medical officer for Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, NJ.

Coats says after Governor Murphy signed the Medical Aid in Dying Act, there has been little communication from the state, except for an FAQ posted on a website on Wednesday that advises physicians how to proceed.

He says the hospital has been working with their cancer, hospice, and palliative care divisions for months to create a policy.

"No doctor in New Jersey has ever done this before. What medicines do you use? They have given us no guidance on that. One of the FAQs says your doctor will decide what to give you," Coates said.

According to state law, a patient wishing to end their own life must have six months or less to live.

They must request the oral medication from a physician twice, 15 days apart.

Before an attending physician can give the green light, they must consult with another doctor and possibly a mental health professional who can agree the patient is of sound mind and making the request on their own.

"One of the interesting aspects of this bill is going to be people with ALS. ALS is a devastating diagnosis where you are able to think right up to the end but you lose control of your body. A lot of people with ALS in other places have expressed interest in these...programs," said Dr. Coates.

Coates says Hunterdon's cancer center has received a handful of inquiries from patients about the right to die option.

He says his hospital will likely discuss their policy with physicians in September.

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