Opponents of medical aid in dying law defend their legal bid to overturn it

A legal battle is looming over New Jersey’s new aid-in-dying law, which went into effect this month only to be set aside, temporarily at least, by a state court judge.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act in April, which allows doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to enable some terminally ill patients to end their lives. The patients must meet certain criteria, including having six months or less to live. The law became effective Aug. 1.

But last week State Superior Court Judge Paul Innes, sitting in Mercer County, issued a temporary restraining order in response to a lawsuit filed by Dr. Yosef Glassman, a physician from Bergenfield. His attorney, E. David Smith, said the law opens the door to create a slippery slope that could lead to the taking of innocent human life.

“Point is people will be desensitized over time,” Smith said. “And the judges will be desensitized over time and the police officers … everyone becomes desensitized. In fact … the original Hippocratic Oath forbids, it says, ‘I will not give a poison to my patient even if requested.’”

Glassman, whom the suit identifies as an Orthodox Jew, argues that the law is an affront to religious doctors.

He is joined in his opposition to the law by Assemblyman Robert Auth who appeared with Smith at a press conference Monday in Trenton. The Republican from Bergen County has sponsored two pieces of legislation in response to the law. One makes it a first-degree crime to coerce a patient into requesting the life-ending drugs. The other, introduced in June, would repeal the aid-in-dying law entirely.

Auth argues that the law lacks regulation, and that can strip patients of options in their final days.

“I change my mind, but now all of a sudden someone else has interceded, taken the note put it someplace else and then they administer the medication … the poison,” he said.

Proponents of the law say they are disappointed, and are urging Smith and Auth to drop the lawsuit and proposed legislation. At the same time, the state attorney general has challenged the court order.

“We’ve been fielding calls from New Jerseyans every day who are dismayed by the judge’s ruling in this case,” said Corinne Carey, state director for New York and New Jersey for Compassion & Choices, which has advocated for aid-in-dying laws.

“I think there are New Jerseyans who got a lot of comfort and relief from knowing that New Jersey’s medical aid in dying for terminally ill law went into effect on Aug. 1.,” she said. “And that piece has been taken away from them now. I wish that the plaintiff would drop this suit … The beliefs of one religious doctor who objects to this law should not stand in the way of the peace of mind of that this law has given to so many New Jerseyans across the state.”

Susan Boyce, who has a terminal genetic disease, says the law gives her a chance to take control at the end of her life.

“Everybody that I know who advocates for this bill wants to live,” she said. “We’re all primarily living our lives and trying to do our level best to take care of ourselves. We are not people who are seeking assisted suicide, we are not mentally ill. We just want to have this option for New Jersey residents in the very tail end of life.”

It’s an option that the governor of the state has vowed to preserve.

We’re going to vigorously fight that injunction,” he said last week. “I got convinced … that it shouldn’t be the law that dictates how things end, that it should be you and your loved ones.”

Murphy also said the law has “multiple layers” of protections to guard against misuse.

On Friday, the Attorney General’s Office filed an emergency appeal seeking immediate suspension of the trial court’s order.  The Appellate Division set a briefing schedule – but did not set aside the order.  The attorney general has appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court.

But for now, the order remains in place.

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