Death is not something we’re comfortable talking about, but one Assemblyman has decided to tackle the thorny issue head on.

You may remember I talked about the measure put forth by South Jersey Assemblyman John Burzichelli that would allow terminally ill patients to decide how and when they should die.

Well, the issue has come up again, as an Assembly panel today approved legislation sponsored by Assemblymen John Burzichelli and Tim Eustace, known as the "New Jersey Death with Dignity Act," which would allow voters to decide if New Jersey should create a process for terminally patients who wish to be provided medicinal assistance to end their lives.

According to this:

The South Jersey lawmaker wants suffering patients to have the option of ending their days on their own terms. He expects a long debate on the bill.

"This is the beginning of discussing a topic that we’ve got to get a sense of how people feel," he said. "People are not favorable to a Dr. Kevorkian suicide bill that says someone who’s 45 and depressed and decides to kill themselves with help. That’s not what this bill is."

Under the bill, no law would be enacted without voter approval, but Burzichelli said he is not sure if the final version will call for a public referendum. If it becomes law, patients would self-administer the drugs.

Patrick Brannigan, executive director for the New Jersey Catholic Conference, said while the Church does not require "futile medical treatments or high-tech interventions for the dying" and backs palliative care to ease pain — it does not support hastening the end of life.

"The New Jersey Death with Dignity Act as written is not about dignity or choice. The legislation would enable people to pressure others to an early death or even cause early death. The Act may also encourage patients with years to live to give up hope," Brannigan said. "The Bishops of New Jersey strongly oppose any direct, intentional or purposeful taking of a human life."

Mickey MacIntyre — chief program officer for Compassion & Choices, a group that provides counseling on end of life issues and pushes for legislation like Burzichelli’s across the country, said the bill would help patients and their families.

Under the bill (A3328), patients who want to end their lives would have to first verbally request a prescription, followed at least 15 days later by another verbal request and one in writing, signed by two witnesses.

After that, the doctor would have to offer the patient a chance to rescind the request and recommend the patient’s next of kin be notified. A second doctor would then have to certify the original doctor’s diagnosis and affirm that the patient is acting voluntarily and capable of making the decision.

Patients deemed to have impaired judgement would not be eligible, and the doctors would be required to refer them to counseling. And health care facilities would be able to prohibit their doctors from writing the prescriptions.

The New Jersey legislation is modeled after laws in Oregon and Washington, the only states with statutes that allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients. One other state, Montana, allows it based on a court decision.

A similar measure is on the ballot this November in Massachusetts, and since the 1990s voters have rejected them in California, Maine and Michigan.

A friend of mine recently told me he was with his mother when she passed, how he held her hand as she took her last breath; and how he was able to get some sense of closure. Another person who happened to be a hospice worker related to me the beauty of seeing someone pass into the next life naturally ; and how a measure such at this would prevent that.

I've seen a family member, a neighbor, and a close friend suffer through terminal illness, and I could say with relative certainty that they would have given anything to have had the right to decide when and how they would die!

Given the safeguards built into it, I don't know, notwithstanding the stories above, how anyone could be against this.

I guess the real question is whether or not you want the legislature to decide this for you, or whether you’d want this measure put on the ballot…a measure of which
I’d be most in favor.