X-Message-Number: 292
From: Kevin Q. Brown
Subject: Patient Defined Death in New Jersey 
Date: 10 Apr 1991

Patient Defined Death in New Jersey

The top headline on Page One of the Tue. April 9, 1991 Star-Ledger was:

    Landmark Law Lets Patient Define Death

and the opening paragraph read:

   "New Jersey elevated the principle of religious liberty to new heights
    yesterday as Gov. Jim Florio signed a bill, the first of its kind in
    the nation, basing a determination of death on a patient's religious

So far, that sounded promising for cryonicists.  Perhaps the Venturist
Certificate of Religious Belief (which invokes a religious objection to
autopsy) could be strengthened to also specify favorable conditions for
declaring legal "death".  (The text of NJSA 52:17B-88.2 at the end of this
message *** shows the legal support for religious objection to autopsy in NJ.)
After reading the full article, though, I do not see any immediate application
of this law toward cryonics in New Jersey.  A sidebar titled "Highlights of
the Law" summarized the legislation:

   "To be declared brain dead, the patient must have sustained
       'irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain,
       including the brain stem.'
    Patients with religious objections to brain death can only be
       declared dead under the traditional criteria of irreversible loss
       of heartbeat and breathing.
    Transplant surgeons may not declare brain death.
    Physicians and nurses who declare death in accordance with the law
       may not be sued or prosecuted."

Since cryonicists do not want to wait until brain death to do a suspension,
this law appears to be oriented mainly toward handling cases similar to that
of Karen Ann Quinlan (who was in a vegetative coma and for years could not
legally be 'unplugged').  So why should cryonicists be interested in this
law, especially if they do not live in (or intend to visit) New Jersey?

  (1) Current legislation is, by its precedent-setting nature, a
      stepping-stone to future legislation.  Even if the new law does not
      directly address issues important to cryonicists, we should notice
      whether or not it is a step in the right direction.

  (2) Similar legislation may be enacted in other states or countries.  In
      particular, the newspaper article cited inquiries about the bill from
      lawmakers in California and Michigan and a scholar in Japan.

Is this law a step in the right direction?  I think so.  Giving the patient
expanded rights to define his or her own death sounds useful to me.  Any
other thoughts about this?

				       - Kevin Q. Brown

PS: The March 1991 issue of Cryonics magazine mentioned that cryonics has
    been forbidden in the Canadian Province of British Columbia.  From the
    description in Cryonics magazine, this ban of cryonics appears to me to
    be just one of many sections of a complex law, not a centerpiece of any
    model legislation intended for promulgation throughout Canada.
    Further information about this law is, of course, welcome.
*** In message #15 (Sept. 1, 1988) I pointed out that the Venturist's
    religious objection to autopsy does have some legal support in the
    New Jersey State Medical Examiner Act:

  NJSA 52:17B-88.2
  Dissection or autopsy: contrary to decedents' religious beliefs

  Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no dissection
  or autopsy shall be performed, in the absence of a compelling public
  necessity, over the objection of a member of the deceased's immediate
  family or in the absence thereof, a friend of the deceased that the
  procedure is contrary to the religious belief of the decedent or if there
  is an obvious reason to believe that a dissection or autopsy is contrary
  to the decedent's religious beliefs.

Something like this is probably true for most, if not all, states.

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