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End-of-Life Bill Advances in NJ [POLL/AUDIO]

Terminally ill New Jerseyans may soon be able to obtain prescription drugs to end their lives on their own terms.

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The Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee approved the legislation, “Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act,” Thursday after revamping the controversial bill.

“This is about someone’s choice of how to conclude their life,” said sponsor Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-West Deptford). “Our question as lawmakers is – `Should the law provide another choice?'”

The original version was called the “Death with Dignity Act,” but Burzichelli explained that the way someone dies would be dignified if his bill became law whether that person chooses to take their own life, or decides to live under a doctor’s care until they pass away.

Initially, Burzichelli wanted voters to approve or reject his measure, but explained that the assisted suicide statute in New Jersey didn’t exist until the 1970s so lawmakers need to update the law.

The bill would require terminally ill patients with six months to live or less, to verbally ask for a prescription from their doctor. That would be followed by a second verbal request at least 15 days later, and one written request signed by two witnesses. The doctor would have to offer the patient a chance to change their mind, and another doctor would have to certify the original diagnosis and reaffirm the patient is of sound mind.

It would be up to the patient to self-administer the drugs.

“All reports tell us they (terminally ill people) have great comfort in knowing that they have control of their circumstances – should the pain become too much, should their circumstances become overwhelming or should they find themselves in a place where they would rather not be,” Burzichelli said referring to other states where the practice is already legal.

But opponents said the legislation is dangerous because it is flawed in many areas.

“Often, patients are misdiagnosed and could make an irreversible decision to die based on the wrong information,” said Dawn Parkot, who was misdiagnosed with a brain defect.  “Who can confirm that the assisted suicide choice was freely made when the only witness is dead?”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.




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