NJ Court Dismisses Suit Seeking to Overturn Aid-in-Dying Law
Plaintiffs Last Legal Option Is to Appeal Ruling to Higher Court
Compassion & Choices praised a New Jersey superior court that late Wednesday granted a motion by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to dismiss a lawsuit, Glassman v. Grewal, seeking to overturn the state’s 2019 medical aid-in-dying law.
The law allows mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live to get a prescription medication they can decide to take to die peacefully in their sleep, if their suffering becomes unbearable.
The ruling follows an appellate court’s decision on Aug. 27, 2019, to overturn the superior court’s temporary restraining order because “it abused its discretion” when it suspended New Jersey’s Medical Aid in Dying Act on Aug. 14, 2019. The appellate court immediately reinstated the law. The law originally took effect on Aug. 1, 2019. Just hours after the appellate court decision, the Supreme Court of New Jersey denied the plaintiff’s application to reverse it.
The superior court’s ruling stated:
“The Court finds that Plaintiffs lack standing to bring a claim against the Act because its enforcement, and this Court’s determination, does not harm or affect them in any cognizable way …
The language of Article I [of the New Jersey Constitution] does not establish a constitutional or fundamental right to protect or defend the lives of others…it would curtail the rights to privacy of capable terminally ill patients to determine the course of their own medical treatment …
Here, the State has a legitimate interest, perhaps even a compelling interest, in establishing a safe and effective procedure for qualified terminally ill patients to experience a humane and dignified death …
Plaintiffs do not have a reasonable probability of success on the merits of any of their claims …
Accordingly, the Court dismisses the complaint with prejudice.”
(See pages 13, 14, 17, 32, 37 of ruling at bit.ly/NJcourtDismissesAIDsuit).
The court’s dismissal of the suit “with prejudice” means the plaintiffs’ only remaining legal option is to appeal the decision to a higher court. The plaintiffs are a physician in Englewood, Yosef Glassman, a pharmacist in Paramus, Manish Pujara, and a terminally ill cancer patient, Anthony Petro.
New Jersey residents support medical aid in dying by more than a 2-1 margin (63% vs. 29%), including a majority of Protestants (73%), Catholics (64%) and other non-Protestant residents (59%), according to a 2015 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.
“We thank Attorney General Grewal for defending this law, so terminally ill New Jerseyans continue to have this peaceful dying option,” said Kevin Díaz, chief of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices, which has successfully worked to defend legal challenges to weaken or overturn medical aid-in-dying laws in California, Oregon, and Vermont. “No one’s religious beliefs should dictate what healthcare options someone else should have to relieve their suffering at the very end of life.”
“We are grateful that the superior court recognized that there are terminally ill New Jersey residents who are counting on this end-of-life care option to bring peace of mind during this difficult time,” said Alan Howard, a partner in the Perkins Coie law firm, who has been monitoring the case locally for Compassion & Choices. “Dying people should have this compassionate option to end their suffering if it becomes unbearable.”
“I’m happy with this ruling because I would like the option of medical aid in dying as a last resort to ease my final days,” said Lynne Lieberman, a retired social worker in Absecon (Atlantic County) who has metastatic cancer in both lungs. “I know it will give me peace of mind simply having the medication, even if I never use it. It will make it easier for me to fully live out the time I have left.”
“I’m very happy that the Court made the right decision and I can continue to help terminally ill people who want to use medical aid in dying to peacefully end their suffering,” Dr. Paul Bryman, a geriatrician, hospice medical director, and palliative care practitioner who lives in Delair.
“It has been a nightmare worrying about the status of this law, so I’m thrilled by the court’s decision,” said Clark resident Laurie Wilcox, a retired nurse with rheumatoid arthritis that has invaded her lung tissue and requires her to use an oxygen tank most of the day to breathe. Her sister Melissa is also a retired nurse and has deadly small cell lung cancer (see their story at: bit.ly/WilcoxSistersOpedVideo). “As nurses, we know the limits of modern medicine to relieve suffering, so it’s comforting to know that we still have the option of medical aid in dying if hospice and palliative care don’t suffice.”
In addition to New Jersey, Washington. D.C. and eight other states have authorized medical aid in dying: California, Colorado, Hawai‘i, Maine, Montana (via a state Supreme Court ruling), Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Collectively, these 10 jurisdictions represent more than one out of five Americans (22%).