Today New Jersey joins California, Vermont, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Washington state, and Washington, D.C., in allowing residents with terminal illnesses to seek assistance from doctors in order to end their own lives on their own terms.
In March, lawmakers passed the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed it into law in April. It officially goes into effect today.
The law permits people who are diagnosed with less than six months to live to request medication from doctors to commit suicide. This isn't like picking up a prescription for antibiotics; there are a number of requirements to meet before a patient will actually receive the drugs. The patient needs request the medication twice (at least 15 days apart), once in writing, and have witnesses sign off on it (including one who is not a relative or entitled to any part of the patient's estate). The patient must be an adult, a resident of New Jersey, and a person determined capable of making such a decision. The patients must be able to administer the medication to themselves.
It has taken seven years for a bill allowing for assisted suicide to make it through the legislature in New Jersey, and it only barely passed. NBC's New York affiliate notes that Dan Diaz, husband of cancer sufferer Brittany Maynard—who moved to Oregon in order to legally end her own life in 2014 at age 29—went to Trenton to fight for the bill's passage.
In much more recent assisted suicide news, professional poker player Kevin "Racks" Roster died just last week. He was a New Jersey resident with terminal cancer, but because the state's assisted suicide law didn't kick in until today and Roster's suffering was getting much worse, he decided to move to California in May. There he lived out his last days, continuing to compete in poker, before ending his own life with medical assistance on July 26.
In June, Roster published an article in USA Today calling for assisted suicide for the terminally ill to be legal in all 50 states. He wrote:
I want to rob cancer of its prize. I want to go out on my own terms. That's why I want the option of medical aid-in-dying to peacefully end my suffering from the very possible end-of-life scenarios for me: gasping for air or choking on my own blood.
This decision has nothing to do with having a disability. It is not because I am wheelchair-dependent. I can deal with that. I still think life is beautiful, and I want to live every day as long as I can enjoy it. But there's no reason anyone with a terminal disease should not have the option to avoid intolerable pain and suffering at the very end of life. My loved ones are supportive and plan to be there with me, if and when, I take the medication.
Bonus video: Reason TV explored the issues surrounding assisted suicide in Montana in 2013: