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March 22, 2019

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Death with dignity: Legislators revisit legalizing assisted suicide

Legislature

Ryan Tarinelli / AP

People gather at the Nevada Legislature in Carson City before a hearing on a bill that would allow terminal patients to kill themselves with medication prescribed by a doctor Monday, Feb. 25, 2019.

Nevada has begun hearings on "death with dignity" legislation, two years after the measure failed to pass through the Assembly.

Death with dignity laws allow patients with terminal illnesses to kill themselves with prescribed medication. Under the proposed Nevada statute, the patients must be diagnosed as six months from death and in sound mental health by two doctors. They may then “self-administer” drugs that would end their life.

The bill would also not allow insurance companies to “sell, provide or issue” a life insurance policy if a person has requested or received the drugs.

This is not the first time the proposition has surfaced at the Legislature — it was brought forward in 2015 and 2017 as well. No action on the bill was taken during Monday’s committee meeting.

According to the website for Death with Dignity, an advocacy group, six states and Washington, D.C., allow assisted suicide. The West is well-represented, with Washington, Oregon, California and Colorado on the list.

In testimony that was oftentimes emotional, many spoke for, but most against, the legislation.

Kristin Hansen, with the national Patients Rights Action Fund, said her husband, J.J., lived more than three years longer than his initial prognosis, but had told her that he may have taken medication to end his life had it been available. She said she was worried about the potential of patients acting too quickly.

Timothy Doyle, a doctor in Carson City, said the legislation would pose “serious societal risks.”

“This bill establishes a double standard of medical care for suicidal patients by targeting those who are most vulnerable, with terminal illnesses,” he said.

Charles Held, a physician in Sparks, supported the bill, saying the option to die at home instead of a “sterile” hospital environment could help ease the stress of a difficult time.

“My hope in supporting the death with dignity bill is to make available to every citizen of Nevada an additional choice — it certainly won’t be a choice for everybody — but a choice … when their suffering is too great and we have no better hope or better offer of treatment down the line,” he said.

Dan Diaz, the husband of the late Brittany Maynard — who, afflicted with a brain tumor, moved to Oregon to take advantage of their death with dignity laws — testified in favor of the bill, stating that patients choosing death with dignity are not choosing between life and death. They’re choosing between death now and death later, he said.

“One would be gentle, the other would be filled with unrelenting pain,” he said.