The House Judiciary Committee revived the bill this year, passing it to the full House by a vote of 10 to 5. Whether it becomes law or not, the committee showed courage in standing up for an important matter of personal choice in a contentious climate of election-year politics. The committee's vote, which followed four hours of divided public testimony, was absent of petty partisanship. The majority included two Republicans and the minority included three Democrats. This legislation doesn't affect many people; fewer than 130 Oregon patients took advantage of that state's groundbreaking law in the four years after it passed. But it's a blessing for those who need it and a comfort for others who fear their day is coming. Opponents include Gov. Linda Lingle, many advocates for the disabled, certain religious groups and segments of the medical community. They worry that physician-assisted suicide is a "slippery slope" that ultimately could lead to euthanasia and mercy killings. The right to die, they fear, could become a duty to die for elderly and disabled people whose lives are wrongly deemed to be burdensome and without quality by those who would benefit from their death. These are worthy concerns, but they don't address the legislation now before us. This is not a euthanasia bill. Few advocates of physician-assisted suicide support mercy killings in which the decision to end life is made by anybody except informed individual patients. Under the current legislation, lethal prescriptions could be obtained only by competent patients certified to be near death. Requests must be oral and in writing, and there's a 15-day waiting period before the prescription can be written. Doctors must counsel patients on other alternatives for end-of-life care and screen for mental illness, treatable depression and factors such as outside pressure. Physicians would have no role in administering the lethal medication; patients would have to do that themselves. Under these guidelines, there's little chance elderly, disabled or mentally ill patients who can't competently speak for themselves could legally obtain lethal prescriptions. Opponents are right that end-of-life care and pain management are getting better, but top care is not universally available and other options are needed for those who wish to end unbearable suffering on their own terms. It comes down to rightful choice. When there is no clear truth on a matter so personal, the decision should rest with the individual, not the government. Rep. Joe Souki of Maui recognized this when he said that even though his own religious faith opposes suicide, he has no right to impose his beliefs on others who feel differently. Rep. Ezra Kanoho of Kaua'i was forthrightly honest in explaining his "yes" vote: "If the time comes for me, I would like to have this option at my disposal." That's exactly the point. Deep down, it's a choice most of us would like to have for ourselves. How can we deny the comfort to those who need it now? - David Shapiro can be reached at