Injunction Issued Against Operation of New Jersey Medical Aid in Dying For the Terminally Ill Act

by John Zen Jackson

This statute in May and August was the subject of two previous postings on this blog.  As of August 1, 2019, health care providers in New Jersey were to be authorized to provide qualified terminally ill patients with prescriptions for medication which would enable the patients to end their own lives.  The phrase “terminally ill” was defined as being “in the terminal stage of an irreversibly fatal illness, disease, or condition with a prognosis, based upon reasonable medical certainty, of a life expectancy of six months or less.”  Codified at N.J.S.A. 26:16-1 et seq., the statute would not actually be operational until August 16 because of a statutory provision requiring the patient to make a second oral request no sooner than 15 days after the first request as a precondition for the physician providing the prescription.

On August 14, 2019, an Order with temporary restraints was entered by Judge Paul Innes sitting in the Chancery Division-General Equity for Mercer County enjoining the Attorney General from enforcing the statute.  The Order was issued in response to an application by Verified Complaint in the matter of Yosef Glassman v. Gurbir Singh Grewal, Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, Docket No. MER-C-53-19.  With a ten-count Verified Complaint, plaintiff sought to invalidate the statute on a number of constitutional grounds. The plaintiff is a licensed New Jersey physician with moral and religious objections to the conduct that the statute would authorize.  Judge Innes scheduled an October 23, 2019 return date for the Order to Show Cause.

The Office of the Attorney General filed an emergent motion with the Appellate Division.  The Appellate Division ordered expedited briefing to be completed by August 23, but declined to dissolve the injunctive order.  An application was then made to the New Jersey Supreme Court.  It entered an Order on August 20 denying the request for immediate dissolution of the injunction against implementation of the statute and declined to take any further action concerning “an issue of this magnitude” until the Appellate Division addressed the identical motion with the “thoughtful consideration” reflected by its order for expedited briefing.  It requested that the Appellate Division resolve the matter expeditiously.

As pointed out in prior blogs, New Jersey is the eighth state along with the District of Columbia enacting such physician-assistance in dying legislation.  There has been litigation challenging the validity of such statutes elsewhere, some of which is ongoing.