Your Right to Refuse Medical Treatment and to Die. The Advance Health Care Directive

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Living Will and Health Care Directive Attorney

Life vs. Death is a topic we often discuss in hypothetical terms because it’s disturbing. New Jersey Law permits life-sustaining treatment to be withheld or withdrawn in certain, limited circumstances. New Jersey is generally regarded as a “Right to Control over Life” state.

The Act defines the term “life-sustaining treatment” quite broadly:

“Life-sustaining treatment” means the use of any medical device or procedure, artificially provided fluids and nutrition, drugs, surgery or therapy that uses mechanical or other artificial means to sustain, restore or supplant a vital bodily function, and thereby increase the expected life span of a patient.

Experimental Treatment

You have the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment when the treatment is experimental in nature and not a proven form of treatment or when the treatment is unlikely to prove effective and merely prolongs the dying process.

Permanently Unconscious

You have the right to die. A living will can and should permit someone to “pull-the-plug” on them when they are a “vegetable.” We know the term “vegetable” is a cliché. Legally being a vegetable means a “vegetative state”. A “vegetative state” is officially called “permanently unconscious.” Your attending physician and a second physician must unanimously conclude that you are in a state of permanent unconsciousness, thus vegetative.

Terminally Ill

Life-sustaining treatment can be withheld or withdrawn when we are in a terminal condition, as determined by his attending physician and confirmed by a second physician. The Act defines “terminal condition” as follows:

“Terminal condition” means the terminal stage of an irreversibly fatal illness, disease or condition. A determination of a specific life expectancy is not required as a precondition for a diagnosis of a “terminal condition,” but a prognosis of a life expectancy of six months or less, with or without the provision of life-sustaining treatment, based upon reasonable medical certainty, shall be deemed to constitute a terminal condition.

But remember just because you’re diagnosed as terminal doesn’t mean you’re left to die. You can actually control the dying process.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Finally, life-sustaining treatment can be withheld or withdrawn when the risks and burdens of the treatment or ongoing life are likely to outweigh the benefits of the treatment. The State isn’t interested in forcing people to undergo painful procedures that have little benefit or chance of helping the person live a meaningful life.

To discuss your NJ Living Will and Health Care Directive matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.