New Jersey Releases Year-Two Data

Utilization of medical aid in dying in the state increased slightly in 2020.
May 26, 2021
Terminally Ill Act author and sponsor Assemblyman John Burzichelli, C&C CEO Kim Callinan and C&C NJ Campaign Dir. Corinne Carey after legislature passed bill and Gov. Phil Murphy vowed to sign it.

From left, C&C terminally ill volunteer NJ advocate Melissa Wilcox, NJ Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act

The New Jersey Department of Health has published a report showing that 33 terminally ill residents in 16 counties used the state’s Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act to peacefully end their suffering in 2020. Of those who utilized the law in 2020, 94% were white, 73% had cancer and 15% had a neurological disease.

In comparison, 12 terminally ill New Jersey residents used medical aid in dying during the first five months after the law took effect on Aug. 1, 2019 — an average of 2.4 adults per month compared to 2.75 in 2020 — according to the health department’s 2019 report. New Jersey reported more than 74,000 total deaths from all causes statewide in 2019, according to the health department; 2020 data on statewide deaths is not available yet.

“Normally, we would expect a significantly higher utilization rate during the second year of the law, as more healthcare providers adopt policies supporting terminally ill patients who request this peaceful dying option and more residents learn about it and request it,” said President and CEO Kim Callinan, who grew up in Bergen County. “COVID-19 likely resulted in fewer terminally ill New Jerseyans being able to access medical aid in dying.”

“We expect more terminally ill New Jerseyans will use the law in the future; that said, the experience in other jurisdictions suggests that utilization rates will remain below 1% of total deaths statewide,” concluded Callinan.

For people in New Jersey and nationwide, Compassion & Choices has a free online Find Care tool to help locate healthcare providers supportive of broad end-of-life options. Also we have created online tools and resources for patients and doctors, including our online Plan Your Care Resource Center that includes a COVID-19 specific toolkit to help people navigate end-of-life care during the pandemic.

These tools complement the guidance provided by the New Jersey Department of Health for healthcare providers and patients about how to participate in the law and the forms required. The New Jersey Hospital Association has posted a law implementation toolkit for healthcare providers as well.

“What I found remarkable about all of the terminally ill people I have prescribed medical aid in dying to, with no exceptions, was that they were all extremely clear in their requests; their decisions were made after weeks of discussions with their respective families, friends and even clergy,” said Deborah Pasik, M.D. FACR, a physician in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey. “Every single one of them expressed gratitude and peace of mind, their anxieties dissipated after being told that their prescriptions would be written. They then went on to celebrate their lives with their loved ones, record legacy videos, get their affairs in order with a clear-headedness that only comes with the knowledge that they were in control.”

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