This is a status report provided by the New Jersey State Bar Association on recently passed and pending legislation, regulations, gubernatorial nominations and/or appointments of interest to lawyers, as well as the involvement of the NJSBA as amicus in appellate court matters. To learn more, visit njsba.com.

Controversial aid in dying bill voted out of Assembly Judiciary Committee

The Assembly Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would allow a terminally ill adult patient to self-administer medication to end his or her life. The Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act—A-1504 (Burzichelli)/S-1072 (Scutari)—was first introduced in 2012 to create a mechanism for people to make end-of-life decisions legally and in consultation with a physician. The New Jersey State Bar Association supports the bill because of the safeguards put in place to ensure that these decisions are voluntary and to prevent abuse of the process.

“This is about revisiting a statute last looked at in 1978 that never took into account an individual’s right to control their body and their circumstances,” said Burzichelli. “Like society, medicine, palliative care and hospice services have changed dramatically since then. While there are many choices available right now that may be right for certain people, there is one more choice, not currently available, that deserves an honest discussion.”

In order for the terminally ill patient to receive a prescription, the patient is required to make two oral requests and one written request to his or her attending physician for the medication. There is a 15-day waiting period between the initial oral request and the second request, and the initial request and the writing of the prescription. There must be a minimum of 48 hours between the written request and the writing of a prescription for the medication.

The physician must provide the patient with information regarding the risks, probable results, and alternatives to taking the medication; recommend treatment opportunities, palliative care, comfort care, hospice care, and pain control options; and refer the patient to a healthcare professional who is qualified to discuss those alternative care and treatment options. The patient may choose to participate in this consultation, but is not required to do so. The attending physician is also required to recommend that the patient notify his or her next of kin of the request, but medication may not be denied if the patient declines, or is unable to, provide this notification. Verification of the terminal illness is required by a consulting physician.

A standing-room-only crowd attended the hearing to testify on both sides of the controversial bill, which twice passed the Assembly but stalled in the Senate. In his testimony, Burzichelli pledged his commitment to move the bill through the Senate and onto the governor’s desk. He pointed out that the legislation is not a “death with dignity” bill, and assured the committee that the legislation was not intended to permit people with disabilities to abuse the process to selectively end their lives. Opponents of the bill have charged that it is fraught with potential for abuse by people who would not qualify as terminally ill, and questioned the determination of terminal illness.

The bill is pending in the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

NJSBA’s Town Hall: What Would You Do? Register Now!

Join the NJSBA in Trenton for this year’s Town Hall program, featuring lawmakers and legislative staffers as they talk candidly about how to effectively advocate for clients. Lobbyists will ask the tough questions and legislators and legislative staff will discuss the issues. The program then moves on to ethics. The program runs from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on March 22 at the Masonic Temple in Trenton. For more information and to register, go to www.njsba.com.