New Jersey's Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act

New Jersey’s death with dignity law allows terminally ill patients to request aid in dying under certain conditions.

By , MSLIS · Long Island University
Updated by Jeff Burtka, Attorney · George Mason University Law School

In 2019, the New Jersey legislature passed a death with dignity bill called the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act. Governor Phil Murphy signed the bill into law on April 12, 2019, and it took effect on August 1, 2019. The law allows terminally ill patients to request aid in dying in certain clearly defined situations.

In 2022, 91 people received prescriptions under the act. (For additional statistics, see the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act 2022 Data Summary published by the New Jersey Department of Health.)

This article first clarifies some confusing language related to death with dignity laws and then sets out the basics of New Jersey's law.

Death With Dignity, Assisted Suicide, Right to Die: What's the Difference?

"Death with dignity" is one of the most commonly accepted phrases describing the process by which a terminally ill person ingests prescribed medication to hasten death. Many people still think of this process as "assisted suicide" or "physician assisted suicide."

However, proponents of death with dignity argue that the term "suicide" doesn't apply to terminally ill people who would prefer to live but, facing certain death within months, choose a gentler way of dying. In fact, New Jersey's law states that terminating one's life under the law is not suicide. (N.J. Stat. § 26:16-17 (2024).)

Increasingly, health organizations are turning away from the term "suicide" to describe a terminally ill patient's choice to reduce the suffering of an inevitable death. The phrase "aid in dying" is becoming a more accepted way to refer to this process.

You might also see the phrase "right to die" used in place of "death with dignity." However, "right to die" is more accurately used in the context of directing one's own medical care—that is, refusing life-sustaining treatment such as a respirator or feeding tubes when permanently unconscious or close to death. You can provide your own health care directions by completing a New Jersey advance health care directive. (See the end of this article for more information.)

Death With Dignity Requirements in New Jersey

Both doctors and patients must comply with certain legal requirements for a patient to receive a prescription for aid-in-dying medication.

Which Patients Can Obtain Aid-In-Dying Medication?

To request a prescription for life-ending medication in New Jersey, a patient must be:

  • at least 18 years old
  • a New Jersey resident
  • mentally capable of making and communicating health care decisions, and
  • diagnosed with a terminal disease that will result in death within six months.

(N.J. Stat. §§ 26:16-3; 26:16-4 (2024).)

A patient who meets the requirements above will be prescribed aid-in-dying medication only if:

  • The patient makes two verbal requests to their doctor, at least 15 days apart.
  • The patient gives a written request to the doctor. (The law sets out the specific form that the patient must use.)
  • The patient signs and dates the request for aid-in-dying medication in front of two qualified, adult witnesses. (See below for witness qualifications.)
  • The witnesses sign and date the form and confirm the patient's identity.
  • The witnesses declare that the patient has signed the request in their presence and is of sound mind and not under duress, fraud, or undue influence.
  • The witnesses declare that they aren't the patient's attending physician.

(N.J. Stat. §§ 26:16-5; 26:16-10; 26:16-20 (2024).)

New Jersey law limits who can be the two witnesses for the patient's request for aid-in-dying medication. The patient's attending physician can't be a witness. Also, one of the two witnesses can't be:

  • related to the patient by blood, marriage, or adoption
  • entitled to inherit from the patient, or
  • an employee, owner, or operator of the health care facility where the patient is receiving care.

(N.J. Stat. § 26:16-5 (2024).)

What Are the Doctor's Obligations?

A doctor may prescribe aid-in-dying medication to an eligible patient only if:

  • At least 48 hours have elapsed since the prescribing doctor received the patient's written request for a prescription.
  • The prescribing doctor and one other doctor confirm the patient's diagnosis and prognosis.
  • The prescribing doctor and one other doctor determine that the patient is capable of making medical decisions.
  • The patient has a psychological examination, if either doctor feels the patient's judgment is impaired.
  • The prescribing doctor confirms that the patient is acting voluntarily and isn't being coerced or unduly influenced by others when making the request.
  • The prescribing doctor informs the patient of the medication's potential risks and the probable result of taking the medication.
  • The prescribing doctor informs the patient of any feasible alternatives to the medication, including recommending that the patient participate in a consultation about alternatives like hospice and palliative care.
  • The prescribing doctor asks the patient to notify their next of kin of the prescription request. (The doctor can't require the patient to notify anyone, however.)
  • The prescribing doctor offers the patient the opportunity to withdraw the request for aid-in-dying medication before granting the prescription.

(N.J. Stat. §§ 26:16-6; 26:16-7; 26:16-8; 26:16-9; 26:16-10 (2024).)

To use the medication, the patient must ingest it on their own. A doctor or other person who administers the lethal medication may face criminal charges. (N.J. Stat. § 26:16-15 (2024).)

In addition, no other person—such as a health care agent, attorney-in-fact, or conservator—may make a request for aid-in-dying medication on behalf of the patient. (N.J. Stat. § 26:16-16 (2024).)

The New Jersey Department of Health posts information, forms, and updates here:

You can read the full text of New Jersey's Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act on the New Jersey legislature's website. (See N.J. Statutes §§ 26:16-1 and following.)

Learn More

To find out more about the history and current status of death with dignity laws in the United States, visit the website of the Death With Dignity National Center.

For information about appointing a health care agent and making known your own wishes for medical care at the end of life, see the Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney section of

Updated February 26, 2024

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