Terminally ill deserve options

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States should legislate to permit avenues for personal choice.

IT IS CALLED the Compassionate Choices Bill or, sometimes, a Death With Dignity Act. What it means is reasonably simple: When an individual is terminally ill and all hope is gone, that individual is empowered to make a decision about when death occurs.

Obviously, and rightly, there must be strict rules. The person must be of sound mind. The law would allow a physician to provide medication - but not to administer the medication. The individual would have to do that for himself. Two doctors must concur that the individual is of sound mind and truly is terminal, with a life expectancy of no more than six months.

A bill has been proposed in the Wisconsin legislature. We think it ought to pass.

SUCH A LAW hardly would be unique to Wisconsin. Nine other states have adopted some variation of such legislation.

Look at it this way: The idea is not to play a role in making such decisions or to hasten anybody's death. The idea is to give those suffering a path toward making their own considered choices.

Objections generally run along two parallel lines. Some consider empowering individuals to make choices as a step down a slippery slope that could end up with forced euthanasia by the state. Others object on moral grounds, based in religious convictions, that it's wrong for people to make a decision that belongs only to God.

In our view, it's quite a leap to suggest empowering terminally ill people to have a say in when their own life ends will lead society to condone deliberately euthanizing others against their will. We just don't buy that.

And in our secular state systems it is not government's place to enforce any religious doctrine. Freedom of religion, enshrined in the Constitution, means people get to decide for themselves what they believe or don't believe.

LOOK, THIS IS a controversial issue; no doubt about it. But here's how we see it.

Until it's you lying on that death bed, there's no telling how you will feel - no telling if you will want to cling to every last breath or pass in a way that eases suffering.

We think every individual ought to have some say in such matters, and support legislation to make it so.

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