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End of life debate proving divisive

End of life decisions are among the most difficult anyone can be asked to make. Limitations on options likely don't make the process any easier. Taking the decision out of the hands of others is one of the greatest gifts New Jersey residents can give to their loved ones and healthcare professionals.

Through the drafting of a living will an individual can provide the necessary advance directive that can guide others regarding what measures, if any, to take in any given circumstance. To many this is the definition of freedom. For others, it reflects a desire to simply realize death with dignity.

But the boundaries of that freedom and the scope of what constitutes death with dignity is something not everyone agrees on, as is being shown in a contentious debate now under way in the Vermont state legislature. While most of the issues that tend to come up before legislatures can often be counted on to split ranks along party lines, this is one that goes beyond mere party platform planks.

The bill is known as the "death with dignity" measure by its supporters. For those on the other side, it's called "doctor-assisted suicide." The measure is said to resemble the law in Oregon which allows residents of that state to end their own lives with drugs prescribed by doctors. Its chances of passage in Vermont are not clear.

Under the proposal, individuals deemed of sound mind and who are close to the end with terminal illness, would be able to ask for medications to quicken the onset of death. Supporters say those who would likely opt for this form of freedom of choice would number about 10 a year.

But opponents say such a bill makes all of society complicit in suicide and that's hard for them to swallow. They say the measure represents a challenge to established medical ethics and they worry that some patients might be taken advantage of in a deadly way.

Just how divided are lawmakers? The state's democratic governor has thrown his weight behind the measure, calling it a priority of civil rights. Counted among the opponents are two top Senate democrats, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate's president pro tem.

Source: NECN.com, "Controversial end-of-life debate in Vt.," Jack Thurston, March 14, 2012

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