A serious discussion about a serious issue - in the New Jersey Legislature?

One can only hope.

The issue is as serious as they come - death. Death with dignity, to be exact.

And Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, hopes to spark a serious debate with a bill he has proposed to allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to people who have less than six months to live.

"This is the beginning of discussing a topic that we've got to get a sense of how people feel," Burzichelli told The Star-Ledger. "People are not favorable to a Dr. Kevorkian suicide bill that says someone who's 45 and depressed and decides to kill themselves with help. That's not what this bill is."

The discussion is a necessary one.

If you have never experienced the slow, lingering death of a loved one who has no chance of surviving, you are among the lucky few. But most of us are likely to confront such a situation at some point. Indeed, as modern medicine gets better at prolonging the mechanics of life, such situations will only become more common.

And if you are unlucky enough to have already experienced the slow death of a terminally ill loved one, you already know this hidden truth: Compassionate doctors help terminally ill patients die peacefully all the time. But they do so at great risk - they could be charged with murder.

So some version of what Burzichelli is proposing makes sense to us. The details, of course, are key.

Burzichelli's bill, the New Jersey Death with Dignity Act, would require patients to make two verbal requests 15 days apart, and a written request signed by two witnesses.

The doctor would have to offer the patient a chance to rescind his or her request. A second doctor would have to certify the terminal diagnosis and certify that the patient is acting voluntarily and is capable of making the decision.

Health care facilities would be allowed to prohibit their doctors from writing the prescriptions. The patients would have to administer the drugs themselves.

It certainly wouldn't be a simple process. But it shouldn't be. Some aspects of the bill, however, seem unworkable. For example, few such patients are likely to be in a position to administer the drugs themselves.

Burzichelli's bill is modeled after Oregon and Washington laws, according to The Star-Ledger. Only those two states and Montana currently allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to the terminally ill.

But as Burzichelli said, this is a discussion worth having. When there is no chance of survival, a peaceful, dignified death with family at your side is something we believe most people would want.