By Shannon Pettypiece
NEW YORK — Claudia Burzichelli doesn't want to die like her dad. Nine years ago, her father, already afflicted with Parkinson's, killed himself with a gunshot to the head days after his release from a hospital where he had been treated for a heart attack.
Burzichelli, 54, now suffering from kidney and lung cancer, is haunted by her father's violent death, even more so as she contemplates her own mortality. She hopes to find a more peaceful way to end her life, if it comes to that.
"On those days when I've struggled to breathe, when I think about the stresses on my family, I would hope that I might have more options than starving myself or taking my life in a violent way," she told a panel of New Jersey lawmakers during a hearing in February on a bill to legalize assisted dying. "It comforts me to think there could be a process, a way to offer options that would not hurt my family."
Baby boomers, like Burzichelli, a former eduction manager at Rutgers University, are at the forefront of a new movement. They brought on the sexual revolution, demanded natural childbirth, fought for legalized abortion and turned the mid- life crisis into a force for self-improvement. Now they're engaged in transforming how Americans experience death.
In states across the country, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, graying baby boomers have been lobbying lawmakers in recent months at hearings, in letters and by phone, pushing to make it legal for doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients. Advocates and opponents say there is more support this year than in past attempts with five states considering such legislation.
A subject of intense debate since the 1990s, state- sanctioned and regulated end-of-life drugs are gaining support amid demographic changes and shifting attitudes. Baby boomers are beginning to confront their own mortality even as they face the sometimes prolonged and painful deaths of their parents — the first to die in an era of modern medical care that can keep death at bay for months, often at great expense, with feeding tubes, ventilators and defibrillators. About 10,000 baby boomers, those Americans born from 1946 to 1964, will turn 65 each day for the next 19 years, according to the Pew Research Center in Washington.