In her Feb. 18 Citizen Columnist piece, Joan Mahon argued for passage of the inaptly titled Death with Dignity Act, a bill to legalize assisted suicide in New Jersey. She spoke passionately about the anguish she felt caring for her first terminally ill patient in 1973.

But surely, as a nurse, the columnist must be aware of the tremendous strides that have been made in pain management over the last 40 years. She must also know that a prognosis of six months to live can be wildly inaccurate.

As a nurse, she should recognize, too, that many terminally ill patients are clinically depressed and can benefit enormously from counseling and medication, yet a required consultation with a psychiatrist or hospice-care expert is inexplicably absent from the proposed bill.

Those who are dying deserve our compassion, a word whose root meaning is to "suffer with" another person. True compassion does not require that we prolong the life of a terminally ill patient by every available means. But nor does it mean that we hand vulnerable individuals a lethal prescription to end their lives.

True compassion for those who are dying alleviates suffering while providing constant reassurance that they are loved and have an inherent worth beyond their utilitarian capabilities. We are not horses with broken legs or shelter cats that are not adopted. We are made in the image and likeness of God. Let's value our human dignity, support improved hospice and palliative care, and reject New Jersey's assisted suicide bill.

TRACYE McARDLE

Voorhees Township