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New Jersey’s Medical Aid-in-Dying Act Celebrates Year-One Milestone

Since going into effect last August, healthcare facilities across the state have adopted supportive policies.

As of August 1, 2020, one year after the New Jersey Medical Aid-in-Dying Act went into effect, 42 large medical centers, hospitals, and hospices across the state allow their doctors to offer this peaceful dying option to terminally ill patients who request it.

Compassion & Choices’ free online Find Care tool, which enables people to locate the nearest participating medical facility, shows that every New Jersey resident lives within 50 miles or less from a patient-supportive healthcare system.

“Since the law took effect, I have felt free to enjoy the rest of my life without worrying about needlessly suffering in agony when it ends,” said New Jersey resident Susan Boyce, who has a progressive terminal genetic disease called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency that requires her to use an oxygen tank because her lung function is below 30%. “For the last year up until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I have been traveling with my family and enjoying outdoor activities like camping. Before the law passed, I didn’t have the peace of mind to do that.”

Since Governor Phil Murphy signed the bill into law on April 12, 2019, Compassion & Choices has trained more than 500 New Jersey healthcare providers to use medical practice and fielded hundreds of inquiries from residents about the new law. The organization has also created online tools and resources for patients and doctors, including our online Plan Your Care Resource Center that now 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 to do so on its website. The New Jersey Hospital Association has posted a law implementation toolkit for healthcare providers on its website.

“Working in partnership with state health officials, despite the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve made significant progress in implementing the law so eligible terminally ill patients can use medical aid in dying and avoid needless suffering at the end of life if they want,” said Kim Callinan, who grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, and is president and CEO of Compassion & Choices. “We know from experience implementing medical aid-in-dying laws in other states that our work to help educate healthcare providers and patients has only just begun. It will take a sustained effort over the next few years to fully implement this law.”

“New Jersey physicians are closely following federal and state guidelines for maintaining the highest standard of care during the COVID-19 crisis, including the end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying,” said Deborah Pasik, M.D. FACR, a physician in Morristown, New Jersey. “I am proud that the New Jersey Department of Health and the New Jersey Hospital Association have provided leadership to physicians across the state who want to be able to offer this option to their terminally ill patients.”

To commemorate New Jersey’s first year, Compassion & Choices Campaign Manager Amanda Cavanaugh hosted a webinar discussion between a doctor, a nurse, terminally ill supporter Susan Boyce, and bill sponsor and Deputy Speaker of the New Jersey Assembly John Burzichelli about how the passage of this law has changed their lives professionally and personally — and the lives of people throughout the state.

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