Wednesday, March 20, 2019 | 8:02 p.m.
CARSON CITY — A measure that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with medication prescribed by a doctor cleared its first hurdle Wednesday in the Nevada Legislature.
A state Senate committee passed the legislation in a party-line vote Wednesday afternoon.
The Democrat-backed bill says life-ending drugs would only be provided to adults who have been told by a doctor that they have six months to live and are of "sound mental health."
Three Democratic senators voted to move the legislation forward while two Republicans on the panel voted in opposition.
If it ultimately becomes law, Nevada would join several states in allowing medically assisted suicide, an issue that has sparked emotional debate.
Supporters say the legislation will let suffering patients end their pain. At a hearing last month, Republican lawmakers raised questions about patient competency and coercion.
Two Republicans on the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services say they oppose the bill, in part over concerns it will lead to abuse of elderly people.
"When you have that kind of message from your loved ones, that you are of no worth and that you ought to pass on, that's a depressing kind of thing," Republican state Sen. Joe Hardy said this week. "And so you say, 'You know, I think I should end my life.' "
Sen. Dallas Harris, a Democrat who supports the measure, said the proposal is the government getting out of the way of a personal decision. She said the measure has guardrails to prevent against elder abuse or a person being coerced into killing themselves.
"Who are we to tell them no?" she said.
Medically assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.
Montana doesn't have a law allowing or denying the practice, but its Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that doctors could use a patient's request for life-ending medication as a defense against criminal charges.
Physician-assisted suicide legislation was narrowly approved by the Nevada Senate last legislative session, but it did not cross the finish line in the Assembly.