More states consider assisted suicide legislation

| April 19, 2017 | 0 Comments

More states are considering assisted suicide legislation, although few seem to be making inroads in adding themselves to the five states and the District of Columbia where it is legal.

A bill in Alaska closely modeled after Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, which took effect 20 years ago, was the subject of a legislative hearing April 6. But lawmakers in a divided Legislature are in session for only 90 days, and coming to agreement on a state budget appeared to be taking up lawmakers’ time.

At a March 28 hearing on the bill, Margaret Dore, an attorney from Washington state where assisted suicide is also legal, said advocates of doctor-assisted suicide are misleading the public about the real impact on society’s most vulnerable. Dore, who also is president of Choice Is an Illusion — a nonprofit that opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia — said the bill does not deal only with those who are dying. For example, Oregon’s suicide bill lists diabetes as a “terminal illness,” Dore cautioned.

In addition to Oregon, Washington state and the District of Columbia, assisted suicide is also legal in California, Colorado and Vermont.

Arizona lawmakers passed a bill in March that would protect state health care providers and medical facilities from discrimination if they refuse to assist in services or provide items that result in the death of a person. The bill is meant to shield doctors, nurses or medical facilities that choose to exercise personal conscience in not participating in end-of-life situations.

Although Colorado voters approved a medical aid-in-dying referendum last year, within two months of the vote, around one-third of hospitals in Colorado ­— including the state’s largest health system, Centura Health — had decided to opt out of offering medical aid in dying.

In Hawaii, the state house’s Health Committee in March unanimously voted to defer a bill that would have legalized physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients two weeks after the Senate had overwhelmingly voted in favor of the bill. Bishop Larry Silva of the statewide Diocese of Honolulu called physician-assisted suicide a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” adding his concern that legalizing assisted suicide would open the door to a “culture of euthanasia” and abuse of the elderly.

Assisted suicide is legal in the District of Columbia and five states:

Oregon • Washington  • California • Colorado • Vermont

A similar bill was introduced in Iowa by two Senate Democrats, but it has little chance of succeeding in a Republican-dominated Legislature.

Companion bills were introduced in both houses of Indiana’s Legislature to provide “end-of-life options.” No action had yet been taken on the bills.

Kansas’ Death With Dignity bill also is modeled closely on Oregon’s law. A patient requesting aid-in-dying medication will have to be at least 18 years old, a Kansas resident, mentally capable of making and communicating health care decisions, and diagnosed with a terminal disease that will result in death within six months.

Kentucky’s legislative session ended without any assisted-suicide bill passing.

In Maine, dozens of people turned out April 5 to argue for and against a pair of bills that would allow Maine doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to those suffering from terminal illness.

The two sponsors of Maryland’s End of Life Option Act withdrew the bill in March when they realized they didn’t have the votes to pass it in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Assisted suicide advocates in Massachusetts are trying for the eighth time to get a bill passed. Companion bills were introduced in the winter. The state’s legislative session runs through 2018.

A bill was reintroduced in the Minnesota Legislature to give terminally ill patients access to medication to end their lives — but the measure has little chance of passing. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life warned that passing the bill would open the door to new kinds of pressure and coercion, citing Oregon statistics the organization says show that 40 percent of those obtaining life-ending medications have expressed concern about being a burden on family and friends.

Competing bills were introduced in Mississippi: a Death With Dignity Act and a bill that declares that “no person shall receive a prescription for medication to end his or her life.”

New Jersey might be the closest to being the next jurisdiction to allow assisted suicide. A bill passed the full House last fall during the 2016-17 legislative session, and then was approved by a Senate committee in November.

After New Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled against the right to die last year by refusing to overturn a law making it a felony to help end the life of a terminally ill patient, lawmakers tried again. An End of Life Options Act was introduced in the state House in January and approved by the House Health and Human Services Committee the next week. A companion Senate bill was voted on by the Senate Public Affairs Committee March 3. It was taken up by the full Senate and defeated 22-20 in a March 15 vote.

In Oklahoma, one bill, the Death Certificate Accuracy Act, introduced in January, would require listing “suicide” as the cause of death under any assisted dying law that may pass in the future. It passed the House and was pending in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

In Wisconsin, a day after the state passed a measure allowing the terminally ill to have access to experimental drugs that have not yet been approved for use by the federal Food and Drug Administration, an aid-in-dying bill was introduced. Its fate is uncertain.

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