The New Jersey Supreme Court has decided to turn the  implementation of the state's physician-assisted suicide law to the Appellate Division to determine whether the measure should be struck down. The assisted suicide act was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy legally Aug. 1 and would allow terminally ill patients to acquire physician-prescribed life-ending medications. pixabay.com photo
The New Jersey Supreme Court has decided to turn the implementation of the state's physician-assisted suicide law to the Appellate Division to determine whether the measure should be struck down. The assisted suicide act was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy legally Aug. 1 and would allow terminally ill patients to acquire physician-prescribed life-ending medications. pixabay.com photo

The New Jersey Supreme Court declined Aug. 20 to overturn a judge’s order preventing implementation of the state’s physician-assisted suicide law. Instead, the state’s top court decided to send the matter to the Appellate Division to determine whether the measure should be struck down.

Attempting to stall the implementation of New Jersey’s Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, State Superior Court Judge Paul Innis granted a temporary restraining order Aug. 14. The assisted suicide act, which was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in April, legally took effect Aug. 1, and would allow terminally ill patients to acquire physician-prescribed life-ending medications.

Judge Innes, sitting in Mercer County, granted the order at the request of a physician from Bergen County, Dr. Yosef Glassman. The state attorney general responded by asking the state's top court to overturn the judge’s ruling.

The lawsuit asked the judge to declare New Jersey's law unconstitutional and in violation of the state and federal constitutions, specifically the right to life and equal protections, among other claims.

The main argument in the plaintiff’s brief states that regulations and rules from six regulatory bodies were required to be in place before the effective date. “However, no such required regulations or rules have been issued,” the brief continued, “rendering the entire death process wholly unregulated. If the act is not immediately enjoined, New Jersey citizens can actually begin dying pursuant to its provisions as early as Aug. 16, 2019.”

The Supreme Court said that more legal scrutiny is necessary, claiming that “the parties have not yet had the opportunity to brief … whether the restraints imposed should remain in place; and that an issue of this magnitude requires thoughtful consideration.”

Plaintiffs also asked the court to mandate the state to take down its website that indicates the law is in effect. 

“The judge declined to mandate that, so the state’s website continues to indicate that the law is in effect,” said Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of New Jersey Catholic bishops. “Unfortunately, the brief did not include any of the arguments that we and others had raised over the years.”

Both sides have until Aug. 23 to submit briefs, according to the order.

In a reflection issued a day before the law was to take effect, Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., wrote that physician assisted suicide is morally wrong. “It flies in the face of what our Founding Fathers believed. It flies in the face of what the Church believes and teaches.”

“As we witness the slow but steady erosion in contemporary culture of the conviction that all human life is sacred and worth preserving at every moment from conception through natural death, I call upon all Catholics within the Diocese of Trenton, indeed, upon all people of good will, to recommit themselves to the belief that God is the only Creator and source of all human life and that, therefore, God alone has the right to determine its natural end,” he wrote.

New Jersey is one of nine jurisdictions to have an assisted suicide law. The law applies to adults who have received a terminal diagnosis — defined as an incurable, irreversible and medically confirmed disease that will end the person’s life within six months. Doctors are not mandated to participate, but they are required if they refuse to aid a patient’s death to refer patients to another physician.