N.J. law allowing terminally ill patients to end their lives back in effect

An N.J. court has overturned a ruling that put a controversial new law allowing terminally ill patients to end their lives with medical help on hold.

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Updated: 2:52 p.m.

A New Jersey law allowing terminally ill patients to end their lives with medical help is back in effect while a lawsuit against it continues.

A state appellate court on Tuesday overturned a previous Superior Court ruling that had put the law on hold since Aug. 14 — just a couple of days before the first patients could have obtained life-ending medication.

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The latest opinion is at least a temporary victory for sick residents who see the law as enabling them to end their suffering on their own terms. That includes Katie Kim, a North Jersey woman suffering from an incurable neurological disorder who was among the first to seek a lethal prescription when the law took effect at the start of August.

“My terminally ill wife is in agony every single day, so we were heartbroken when we found out the law was suspended,” Freddy Kalles, Kim’s husband, said in a statement Tuesday issued through the advocacy group Compassion & Choices.

“But now we’re grateful to the appellate court for this ruling restoring the medical aid-in-dying law,” Kalles said. “Katie cannot endure any more suffering and just wants this end-of-life option to die peacefully, at home, with me by her side.”

The law was previously put on hold in response to a suit filed by geriatric physician Yosef Glassman, who said it violates his religious beliefs because it requires doctors unwilling to help a patient obtain life-ending medication to transfer the patient’s files to a willing doctor. That provision, his attorney argued, could make doctors complicit in “murder.”

The attorney, E. David Smith, also said the state should have issued regulations to implement the law, but didn’t.

In reinstating the law Tuesday, two appellate court judges cast doubt on those arguments. The idea that transferring files would make Glassman complicit in a death “ignores the voluntary nature of his participation under the Act, and his already existing obligation under relevant regulations to provide a patient with his or her medical records.”

The judges also said nothing in the law suggests that lawmakers intended implementation of it to await formal rulemaking.

Rich Grohmann, another attorney for Glassman, said his firm immediately asked the state Supreme Court to review the appellate judges’ ruling, but that request was denied.

Grohmann said he was “disappointed” in Tuesday’s decisions but said Glassman’s lawsuit would still move forward. He also said his firm had added a New Jersey pharmacist to its complaint; that could introduce new legal arguments into the case.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act into law in April, nearly seven years after it was first introduced in the Legislature.

Debate on the New Jersey measure was highly contentious, with supporters arguing that sick people should have the right to end their suffering on their own terms and opponents warning of inadequate safeguards for vulnerable residents.

Under the law, terminally ill adults deemed mentally “capable” can request and then use a prescription for lethal medication.

Two physicians must attest that the person has less than six months to live. The patient then has to make two oral requests and one written request for the medication over a period of at least 15 days. During that time, doctors must discuss alternative treatment opportunities, such as palliative and hospice care, and offer the patient a chance to reverse course.

Patients who choose to take the medicine must administer it to themselves.

Maine adopted a similar law in June. Oregon, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia have similar legislation.

Montana’s Supreme Court determined that state law did not prevent a physician from prescribing such drugs to the terminally ill.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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