Terminally ill New Jerseyans with little time left to live should have the option of ending their own lives on their own terms according to Assemblyman John Burzichelli. He has introduced the instantly controversial "New Jersey Death With Dignity Act."

Statehouse (NJSenateRepublicans.com)

By a 46 to 38 percent margin, New Jersey voters support the bill that would allow physician-assisted suicide in New Jersey, according to today's Fairleigh Dickinson University-Public Mind poll. Garden State Democrats and Republicans are about equally likely to support the measure as are the young and elderly. The big split among voters seems to be based on religious grounds.

About 1 in 3 New Jersey voters (32%) say that they attend religious services at least every week, and only 23 percent of them support the measure. A similar number of voters (33%) in the state go to services only for special occasions, or never: 67 percent of them support the measure. In contrast, support was evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Half of Democrats (50 percent) support the measure, along with 44 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of independents.

"This is an issue that hasn't really been politicized, at least not in New Jersey," says Dan Cassino, FDU political science professor and poll analyst. "People can't generally turn to political leaders for advice on how to feel about it, so they're relying on religious views instead."

Age does not seem to play a role in determining how people feel about the bill. About half (49 percent) of residents under the age of 60 say that they support the measure, while 40 percent of voters over 60 do.

Cassino says, "You might think that older voters would oppose the measure, but for every older person who is worried about having the plug pulled on them prematurely, there's another who wants more control over their end of life decision-making."

Despite the national media attention the bill has received, most New Jersey residents say that they haven't heard much about it: 49 percent say that they haven't heard or read anything about it at all. This didn't stop respondents from having an opinion on the bill, though: only 16 percent said that they didn't know how they felt about it.

"Most voters simply don't know much about the bill," explains Cassino. "That means that there's still plenty of room for people on either side of the bill to change people's minds."

"This is not a Dr. Kevorkian approach," says Burzichelli. "This doesn't allow a person who's 45 (and) depressed and doesn't feel that they want to live to make a phone call and have someone assist them in ending their life. This is strictly provided to those who are terminally ill, giving them another choice in how to manage their body and their circumstances."

Nothing in the act shall be construed to authorize a physician or any other person to end a patient's life by lethal injection, active euthanasia, or mercy killing or lower the applicable standard of care to be provided by a health care professional who participates in this act.

Under Burzichelli's measure which would require voter approval, in order to be eligible, a patient would have to be of sound mind and diagnosed by two doctors as terminally ill with six months or less to live. The person would then make verbal request for a lethal prescription of drugs.

A 15-day waiting period would follow the first verbal request. The patient would then be required to make another verbal; request and a written request signed by two witnesses. At least one witness shall not be a relative by blood, marriage, or adoption of the person signing this request, shall not be entitled to any portion of the person's estate upon death, and shall not own, operate, or be employed at a health care facility where the person is a patient or resident.

After the aforementioned steps are taken, Burzichelli explains, "If they choose to conclude their life in advance of the illness taking its natural course they would be able to make that request to a physician to prescribe the appropriate drugs……Right now they can't make that decision and they can't ask a doctor for a prescription that would cause them to go to rest sooner than later."

Washington State and Oregon currently have similar statutes on the books.

Burzichelli says the New Jersey legislature hasn't taken up this issue since 1978 and prior to that year assisted suicide of any kind was not illegal by statute.

"The restrictions placed on the New Jersey version of the bill render it mostly symbolic," says Cassino. "But both sides - perhaps correctly - see it as the opening fight in a much bigger war over what they see as patient rights and the sanctity of life."

The poll of 433 registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone using both landlines and cell phones from October 26 through October 29, 2012, and has a margin of error of +/-4.7 percentage points.