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The Debate Over End Of Life Decisions

Recently Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer, made headlines across the country before choosing to end her life this month. They be...
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Recently Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer, made headlines across the country before choosing to end her life this month.

They belong to a club nobody wants to join; members of the cancer support group at Pierce Counseling in Kingston laugh, cry, and talk about the issues they are facing.

"We know that cancer is not necessarily a death sentence."

Recently the group has discussed end of life decisions, specifically physician-assisted suicide.

They invited Newswatch 16 to join the conversation.

"Raise your hand if you would like to see assisted suicide not be a crime in Pennsylvania."

"Absolutely."

They are not the only ones debating the topic. This year the "death with dignity movement" found a face perfect for the Facebook era.

Brittany Maynard showed the world her wedding photos, along with images of her brain, as she faced an aggressive tumor.

The 29 year old moved from her home in California to Oregon, a state which permits assisted suicide.

She ended her life November 1.

But not before imploring Americans to make her choice legal in more parts of the country.

"My goal, of course, is to influence this policy for positive change." Maynard said.

The organization Compassion and Choices presented Maynard's story on its website with the goal of getting the public to take action.

But this group in Luzerne County doubts Maynards's story changed many opinions in Pennsylvania.

"I would like to think that we don't let social networking and People magazine make those decisions for us. I don't know anybody that this would change. It just makes you talk about it more," said Lois Von Hoene of Wyoming.

Rose Manbachi has Stage 4 skin cancer. She says while she probably would not choose assisted suicide for herself. She would like to have the option.

"It is always nice to know that even if you wouldn't chose to have that option, that you would have a choice," Manbachi said.

Sally Alinikoff is one of two counselors leading the group. She says one of the hardest aspects of a terminal diagnosis can be the feeling of losing control over your own life.

"I would like to see it passed in the state, so that they have the choice. Choices mean control, whether it is cancer or any other illness, let's give that patients some control," said Alinikoff.

The only woman in this circle opposed to legalizing assisted suicide is Marie Gould, a devout Catholic.

"I think God gave us a life, and he is the one who should decide when to take it," Gould said.

She's not alone in her beliefs.

At St. Jude's Catholic Church in Mountain Top, the Rev. Joseph Evanko believes that while his religion opposes assisted suicide, debate over the issue is still healthy.

"To have a dialogue helps everyone get to a better place, the worst thing that can happen is when we stop talking and we just get entrenched in our positions" said Fr. Evanko.

Back at the support group in Kingston, about half the people there believe the law in Pennsylvania will change eventually.

"I think it will be within the next five to ten years, not in my lifetime, not in my life time, not mine, not mine either, I think it will be a slow process."

Pennsylvania Senator Daylin Leach hopes to speed up that process.

"Nobody wants to see their loved one in agony."

Every year since 2007, the Democrat from suburban Philadelphia has introduced a "death with dignity" bill in the state legislature. Every year it has stalled in committee.

"Most legislators are not looking for controversy, and they are not looking to get publicly out in front of a bill that is going to create controversy. It makes their life more difficult," said Sen. Leach.

Leach hopes the interest raised by Brittany Maynard's story will impact what happens in Harrisburg.

"She had to move to Oregon in order to have choices. The state where she lived didn't provide any choices. We are like that state, not like Oregon, we are trying to get there."

Sen. Leach says he plans to propose his death with dignity bill for an eighth time when state lawmakers come back in session next year.

Last week, the New Jersey state assembly voted in favor of legalizing physician-assisted suicide. Even if the measure passes the state senate, there's a chance Governor Christie could veto that bill.

A similar effort to change laws in here in Pennsylvania has stalled in Harrisburg seven years in a row.