Just 33 used New Jersey’s medical-aid-in-dying law last year. Pandemic health access could be one reason.
Most of the patients who used the law were white and well-educated.
During the first full year that New Jersey’s Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act was in effect, 33 people used its provisions to end their lives, according to a new report from the state Health Department.
Only people who have a terminal illness and are expected to die within six months can receive prescriptions for a fatal cocktail of drugs. They must request to participate in the program three times and be able to take the medications themselves.
The law went into effect Aug. 1, 2019. During its first five months, 12 people used it to end their lives. Five people are in some stage of the application process but have not been reported to have died.
In a written release, Kim Callinan, president and CEO of Compassion & Choices, an organization that advocates for medical-aid-in-dying laws, said she would normally expect higher numbers in the second year of such a law. “COVID-19 likely resulted in fewer terminally ill New Jerseyans’ being able to access medical aid in dying,” she said.
Other states, she said, have found that less than 1% of deaths result from use of these laws. According to Compassion & Choices, New Jersey is one of 10 states and Washington, D.C., that allow terminally ill people to seek a physician’s help in dying.
In Oregon, which has had an aid-in-dying law for more than two decades, 245 people died after seeking a lethal prescription last year. Oregon’s population of 4.2 million is less than half that of New Jersey. As in New Jersey, such a law went into effect in Maine (population 1.3 million) in 2019. It reported 46 deaths in 2020.
New Jerseyans who used the law did not mirror typical demographics. Sixty-four percent were male and 94% were white. Two-thirds had a bachelor’s degree or higher. A third had a master’s degree.
Their ages ranged from 36 to 90, with most older than 55. Fifty-eight percent were married. Nearly three-quarters of those who used the law had cancer. Five had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a debilitating neurodegenerative disease.
They used a variety of drug combinations, several of which contained six medications.
In nearby South Jersey counties, one person used the law in Burlington, three in Camden, and none in Gloucester.