Death With Dignity Advocates Say Bill Would Give Terminally Ill Options

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.