October 2019 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A New Jersey law that allows terminally ill patients to end their lives with the assistance of a willing physician can go into effect while a religiously based legal challenge to it goes on, a state appeals court has ruled.

The “Aid in Dying” law requires no one who works in the medical field to assist with any procedure designed to end a life. Nonetheless, it was challenged in court by Yosef Glassman, an Orthodox Jewish doctor in Bergen County.

Glassman, who wasn’t representing any patients, based his argument on religious and personal grounds.

Tom Moran, a member of the editorial board of the Newark Star-Ledger, reported that Glassman cited the Torah in his legal filings. The doctor managed to convince a lower court to put a hold on the law, but the New Jersey Court of Appeals in late August lifted the stay, and the New Jersey Supreme Court later refused to re-impose it.

The news site NJ.com reported that the law, formally known as the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy (D) in April. It was scheduled to take effect on Aug. 1 but was temporarily blocked by the lower court’s ruling.

The law requires a terminally ill patient to make two verbal requests and one written request for a lethal dose of medication over a period of 15 days. Two doctors must certify that any patient who wants to end his or her life is of sound mind.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told the appellate court that the stay on the law should be lifted because some terminally ill patients are suffering.

“[T]erminally ill patients and their families have taken affirmative steps in reliance on the time lines in the Act, and will be forced to continue in the intense suffering, pain, and indignity of terminal illnesses from which they seek immediate relief,” Grewal told the court.

Commenting on the ruling, Moran wrote, “It’s the opponents of this law who have repeatedly sought to impose their views on the rest of us by using the full weight of the government, including the threat of prison, to force terminally ill patients to fight until the bitter end, with no exceptions, even for patients in constant agony.”

Aside from New Jersey, seven states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow terminally ill patients to seek physician assistance in ending their lives. The states are California, Colorado, Ha­waii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. The laws are often opposed by conservative religious groups.

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