Proposed Death With Dignity Bill Aims To Give Terminally Ill Patients Options

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

The bill’s chief sponsor, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, said that in facing death many terminally ill people choose palliative care or pain management.

“But there are New Jerseyans who would like to have another choice. They’d like to have assistance and aid in dying when medicine has reached its limits and they have themselves reached the point of satisfaction of conscience that they would like to conclude things,” said Burzichelli.

The bill is modeled on a 16 year old Oregon law.

Last year 122 Oregonians requested lethal prescriptions, Burzichelli said, and of those, 71 ingested the prescription.

The hearing featured powerful arguments on both sides.

Proponents of the bill talked about ending needless suffering.

“Sadly there was nothing we could do but watch him suffer. His final months were nothing but torture,” said Debra Dunn.

“So he took his life with a shotgun. And it was three days before we found him. And it was not a pretty scene,” said Delores Lewis.

“It’s not really about death. It’s about how we choose to live our final days,” said Mickey McIntyre.

Opponents of the bill included the disabled and a hospice nurse who said in all her years no patient or family member has ever requested death.

“Regardless of how prepared for death that person is or how deep is his suffering, every person clings to life until their last breath. Every person,” said Patricia Staley.

“Let’s get truthful. This bill is not about death with dignity. This legislation is about legalizing assisted suicide through medication,” said Dawn Parkot.

New York Detective Steven McDonald, shot and paralyzed in the line of duty 28 years ago, argued every life has redeeming value.

“Knowing these stories I’ve heard, many of them from people suffering–their mothers, their fathers, their children—thinking that this might be a compassionate way out of life is well intentioned but will have a bad effect on life in general,” said McDonald.

The Assembly Health Committee approved the bill 8 to 4 along party lines, but even the proponents recognize that getting it through the full assembly, let alone the Senate, could take months or even years.