The New Jersey Department of Health on Wednesday released official “guidance” about the state’s new medical aid in dying law, which takes effect Thursday.
The law allows doctors to prescribe fatal medications to terminally ill patients who wish to choose their own time of death. The patients must be deemed capable of making the decision to hasten their deaths and able to take the medication by themselves. Participation is voluntary for medical professionals.
The law also specifies that state regulatory agencies, including the Health Department, issue regulations for implementing the law. The guidance document is meant to advise physicians and health facilities until the regulations are adopted.
The Health Department did not respond to a question about when its regulations, which will require a 60-day comment period, will be released. A spokeswoman said hospitals and health facilities can begin helping patients who want to use provisions of the law on Thursday.
The guidance document said all health facilities are responsible for preparing their own policies and procedures with regard to the new law. Several of the largest health systems in South Jersey said recently that they are still formulating their own policies.
The Health Department created a website for the guidance, including answers to frequently asked questions about the law and forms that patients and doctors will need. The documents spell out the steps doctors must take and requirements for reporting both prescriptions of deadly medicines and eventual patient deaths.
One question addresses which cause of death is to be listed on death certificates of patients who have taken medication prescribed under provisions of the law. (The state does not specify what those medications will be.) The Health Department’s office of vital statistics and registry recommends that medical providers record the underlying terminal disease as the cause of death and list the manner of death as “natural.” Such deaths are not to be called suicides or assisted suicides.
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs also has published a summary of the law.