More NJ Residents Using Law to End Their Own Life
Each year, a growing number of New Jersey residents are utilizing a state law that lets them use medication to take their own life when their prognosis is extremely bleak.
According to new data from the New Jersey Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner, 91 terminally ill patients took advantage of the Medical Aid in Dying program in 2022.
The count was 50 in 2021. The law took effect in August 2019.
"We definitely expect these numbers to go up year after year," Elissa Kozlov, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health, told New Jersey 101.5.
Not only is awareness of the law growing, so is the rate of doctors who are willing to participate in the prescription of life-ending medication.
"When New Jersey first adopted (the law), I could tell you on one hand the doctors I knew in this state who were participating. A lot of doctors just weren't ready," Kozlov said. "It takes time for doctors to learn how to safely participate."
New Jersey's law applies to terminally ill residents who have a life expectancy of six months or less. The patient, who must have the capacity to make health care decisions on their own, would have to make two oral requests and one written request in order to obtain a prescription for the life-ending medication.
Who uses NJ's Medical Aid in Dying law?
According to the latest data, 47 males and 44 females ended their lives through the Medical Aid in Dying law in New Jersey last year. Eighty-three percent of the patients who passed were over the age of 65. Five of the self-administered deaths were younger than 45.
Beyond the 91 cases, three individuals received the necessary medication but were not reported as deceased in 2022, and nine individuals who had received the medication passed away without using it.
Kozlov describes the participants since the start of the law as "overwhelmingly white and educated." Ninety percent of participants in 2022 were white.
"New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the country, so you would hope to see a little bit more of that racial and ethnic diversity in the Medical Aid in Dying statistics," Kozlov said.
Until further research is completed, Kozlov said it's unknown whether the disparities in usage are tied to preference or affordability/accessibility.
Cancer was the underlying illness in 48% of the deaths last year.