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The “Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill” law takes effect on Thursday, permitting residents with a terminal illness to request a prescription for medication to end their lives.

Advocates lobbied nearly eight years to pass the law in New Jersey. Their cause went from near hopeless to hopeful after Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy took office in January 2018. Murphysigned the law in April.

Five states including New Jersey have passed aid in dying laws since 2014, when the 29-year-old newlywed publicized her decision to move from California to Oregon, where the law allowed her to end her life rather than endure a prolonged painful death from brain cancer, he said.

Death with dignity laws in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have enabled 3,478 people to die, according to the states’ health departments. The District of Columbia and Montana are right-to-die states but legal challenges remain an obstacle and no deaths have been reported. Maine just passed its law in June.

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.

Patients will have to ask their doctor twice over the span of 15 days and submit a request in writing stating they had been “fully informed” of palliative care, pain control and other alternatives. A second physician would need to verify the diagnosis. A mental health professional may be called in to consult.

The law includes recommended language for the written request.

“I understand the full import of this request, and I expect to die if and when I take the medication to be prescribed,” according to an excerpt. “I further understand that, although most deaths occur within three hours, my death may take longer and my physician has counseled me about this possibility.”

The written declaration must be witnessed by two people who attest that the patient is acting voluntarily. One of the two witnesses cannot be a person who stands to financially gain from the patient’s death or the patient’s doctor or nursing home employee.

These “stop-gaps” should ensure no one feels pressured to die and no one rushes into making such an important decision, said Thomas Ziering, a family physician in Morristown. He said he has already begun discussing the law with some of his patients.

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