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Death With Dignity Advocates Say Bill Would Give Terminally Ill Options

12-11-13

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Three states — Oregon, Washington and Vermont — allow a terminally ill person to hasten his or her death. Assemblyman John Burzichelli wants New Jerseyans to have that right, too.

“You don’t have that option at the moment to say to a physician, ‘I’m at a conclusion, I’d like another choice, I’d like to be able to make the decision when I close my eyes for the final time myself as opposed to waiting for other things to happen,’” Burzichelli said.

A bill he sponsored has been voted out of committee. A group of advocates was in the Statehouse recently lobbying for it.

Janet Colbert says she has terminal liver cancer. She’s been an oncology nurse for 25 years.

“So I’ve been administering chemotherapy, taking care of people in the home with a lot of people when they have passed away. And death should be a beautiful thing. And now that I have a terminal illness, I want to have some control over my ending,” Colbert said.

Fifty-eight-year-old Renee Brink also has liver cancer.

“Like Janet, I’m looking forward to having my life end with dignity, so that I’m not in suffering, not in pain, I’m not wasting away and not at the mercy of other people,” Brink said.

“What they’re talking about is a fear of being disabled,” said Anne Studholme, the Princeton attorney for a national group called Not Dead Yet. She says pain is no longer an issue thanks to modern medicine.

What dying people are really worried about is what some disabled people face every day.

“Why should we change the law that says don’t help someone kill themselves? We change it for this one instance of if you have a terminal illness and you’re afraid of being disabled, then we’ll help you kill yourself. We’re changing our law to enable this,” Studholme said.

Under Burzichelli’s bill, the dying person gets a prescription from a doctor and administers it him or herself. There are numerous safeguards — a six-month waiting period, multiple physician approvals.

“There is assisted dying taking place as we sit here today, but it isn’t often with the person lying in the bed as part of the discussion,” Burzichelli said.

“It’s just ripe for abuse in itself. It’s ripe to help along this culture of de-valuing older people and de-valuing dying people, and that’s not necessarily always the same thing,” said Studholme.

Gov. Chris Christie said last week he is opposed to the bill. Senate President Steve Sweeney said he supports it.


  • Anne Studholme

    Thank you for reporting on this issue. A follow-up report on palliative sedation would help inform people of the pain management available nowadays, as Compassion & Choices–the lobbying group promoting the bill–agrees makes pain, in the words of their spokesman David Leven, “not the issue.”
    I also wanted to mention that 6 months is not a waiting period, as reported. The waiting period is in fact 15 days. 6 months is the average life expectancy a person must be found to have, in order for their doctor’s acts (and the actions of caregivers and others involved in the suicide) to come under the proposed exemption from having the death count under our statutes as assisted suicide. For more information on the bill, see the Not Dead Yet website, http://www.notdeadyet.org.
    Brooklyn Law School hosted a debate on this topic on November 21, 2013. The link for that video is at:
    http://www.brooklaw.edu/newsandevents/mediagallery/Videos/lecturesforumsseminarsdiscussions.aspx?
    Sincerely, Anne

    • Penny Shelfer

      For accurate unbiased information on the Death With Dignity law see http://www.deathwithdignity.org.

      • Anne Studholme

        As for the import of the word “dignity” in this discussion, where hastened death is called dignified, as opposed to an unhastened death, see the following response to an article in Forbes, by John Kelly:

        “But the bigger problem here is the meaning of the word “dignity” itself. Proponents of assisted suicide use “dignity” as a righteous renunciation of the so-called “indignities” some people are so terrified of, the experience of such conditions as incontinence, weakness, and dependence on others for assistance and care. Proponents of assisted suicide see suicide as the dignified response to these conditions of disability.
        The phrase “death with dignity” is about honor killings, and it is motivated by fear and hatred of disability. . . . Let’s talk about recognizing the dignity in everyone, regardless of their ability.”
        http://users.focalbeam.com/fs/distribution:wl/11ksynxzmpbdq5l/11ok51ud816ljca/daid/.preview

        • Penny Shelfer

          Anne, use caution when typing your own self righteous indignation and using it as a blanket to obscure the actual goal of Death With Dignity. If you have a bone to pick with Compassion and Choices, then you should make contact with the organization and air your grievance.

          Death With Dignity allows only a *choice*, an alternative *option* to those seeking to end their own suffering while they are, themselves, actively dying of a terminal illness. It is not for everyone. There are those who strongly oppose ending ones life no matter what the reason, and those individuals can leave this world exactly as they wish.

          People such as myself, with breast cancer, I as an individual DESERVE the right to end my own suffering if and when my cancer metastasizes and I am diagnosed in curable with 6 months or less to live.

          NO doctor, at any time is forced to write a life ending RX at ANY TIME.

          NO patient is coerced and intimidated to USE the option of DWD at ANY TIME.

          The fear mongers are individuals such as yourself, and your vitriol toward this very humane law, this OPTION is just beyond comprehension.

          • Penny Shelfer

            Also, let me state, Death With Dignity works along side of hospice services in the states with the DWD law, so your rant about hospice is also invalid.

      • Anne Studholme

        At the same time, Compassion & Choices continues to inspire public support via stoking a fear of end-of-life pain. I find this highly disingenuous of the C & C leadership. You will note that, in the video interview, assemblyman Burzichelli scrupulously stays away from saying that alleviating pain is a purpose of the bill.

  • Cat

    “Fear of being disabled” – how insulting, Anne Studholme. How mean to try and twist the criticism around (“It’s them, they’re being ableist!”). These laws are not meant to give an easy way out to people too lazy to accept a lower quality of life; they’re to allow people who *know* they have only months left a chance to control their own end, rather than being hooked to machines in a hospital.

    Your organization seems to be fighting the belief that these methods could be forced on anyone, regardless of their wishes. Fine, you want to prevent sneak-attack assisted suicide? Go do that. But get the hell out of the way of people who want to make the decision for themselves. (What’s your stance on abortion, I wonder? Same approach?)

    I have maybe months left – no idea exactly. But because of organizations like yours, I have less control over my end of life than over that of my cat. Thanks for caring so deeply about me.

    • Anne Studholme

      You don’t have to be hooked to machines in a hospital. Everyone has the right to decline any medical intervention, at any time. The question is whether doctors should be put in the position of actively assisting in a patient’s intentionally hastening death, as opposed to providing palliative drugs for pain or symptom relief, even to the point of unconsciousness or death, which is perfectly legal now.
      Since the assisted-suicide proponents agree that pain is “not the issue,” then what IS the issue becomes a fear of loss of control, of being a burden, etc., as proponents state. The Medical Society of New Jersey likewise opposes this bill, for reasons which their own letter states more eloquently than I could, see link, below. My personal opinions do not matter, since I am a lawyer representing clients. i happen to be pro-choice.
      http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/MSNJDeath_with_Dignity-MSNJ.pdf

      • Penny Shelfer

        No Doctor, EVER, is forced to write a life ending RX at any time. You need to become a bit more educated Anne. Do some research and look up the Death With
        Dignity Act.

    • Penny Shelfer

      Dear Cat I’m saddened for what you are going through. You’ll be in my thoughts.

      Big hugs and love,
      Penny