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NJ needs doctor-assisted suicide debate


The proposal of a New Jersey bill that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to patients with fewer than six months to live has done much to amplify discussion in the Garden State about the benefits of doctor-assisted suicide. John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) proposed the Death with Dignity Act (A3328) in September, but a recent poll that asked N.J. voters if they would approve of the option shows that support is on the rise.

The poll, carried out by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, which conducts market research and public interest surveys, found that 46 percent of the 433 voters polled supported the proposal while 38 percent opposed it. Of those polled, 55 percent had previously heard nothing about it though they still weighed-in on the topic.

While the bill itself takes only a small step toward bringing relief to the state’s terminally ill patients, the results of polls like these show that the debate is worth having. Yes, it may be an uncomfortable one — but not having it is tantamount to the neglect of hundreds of patients across the state that are forced to suffer, often in enormous amounts of pain, because of a lack of alternatives.

In reality, the bill’s narrow scope would only apply to a small portion of the state’s terminally ill, but it at least forces New Jersey to take a stance. Patients would have to request a prescription both verbally and in writing, and two witnesses would have to be present. A second doctor would then have to verify the first doctor’s diagnosis, and only patients themselves would be able to administer the drugs. This would certainly protect against malpractice, as well as ensure patients are making their own — and only their own — decision regarding their own lives.

In New Jersey, assisting someone in ending their life in New Jersey is currently illegal, and can result in penalties of a $100,000 fine and up to a decade in jail. But this stance is not a unanimous one. Three other states — Washington, Oregon and Montana — currently allow doctors to prescribe their patients lethal doses. The question is a moral one, but we see little reason why patients should not have the option of ending their life on their own terms.

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