Nevadans deserve a dignified-death debate

Californians got a death with dignity debate this year, why didn't Nevada:

It was a bill he didn’t like, so he refused to give it a hearing.

It wasn’t a partisan issue, since the legislation was sponsored by members of both parties. It seemed to fit nicely into Nevada’s libertarian ethos regarding the right to make personal decisions. And what could be more personal than someone’s body, health or life?

But when pressed by the media for a hearing date, state Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, simply said, “The death with dignity bill will die.”

Hardy, a medical doctor and a Mormon, doesn’t believe people should be able to end their lives of their own volition as is allowed in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana and New Mexico. It’s an understandable position from a doctor who believes in hospice care and pain management for terminally ill patients, although there are many doctors with opposing views on the subject.

Hardy was wrong to kill the bill, SB 336, without a hearing though. There are many Nevadans who want a Death with Dignity statute to allow for more choices should they or a loved one find themselves in a hopeless medical condition, suffering and in pain. Hardy’s unilateral action robbed them of a public debate to determine if such a law could be embraced by their representatives, modeled after the 20-year-old Oregon law which, by most accounts, is working very well.

The bill’s primary sponsor was Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, who noted there is “similar legislation pending in 26 other states right now, and I believe it is time for Nevada to have this conversation.” Parks recruited seven co-sponsors, Republican Sens. Kieckhefer and Farley and Democratic Sens. Segerblom, Smith, Kihuen, Atkinson and Denis.

The proposed Nevada law features requirements and safeguards to protect the patient. In order to receive life-ending medication, the person would have to be a Nevadan, at least 18 years old, have a diagnosis of a terminal illness, and make three requests—two verbal and one written—witnessed by two people. A mandatory waiting period of 15 days would be required and the person would need to be evaluated by two physicians to determine mental competence. The patient would have to be able to administer the medication without assistance.

Opponents said the bill was being pushed by “doctor-prescribed suicide activists,” and they noted Nevada’s already high suicide rate, especially among seniors. They believe insurance companies might start denying expensive treatments while being willing to approve the life-ending drugs, thus encouraging people to die.

But the much-publicized assisted death of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard last year seems to have galvanized many into a new willingness to discuss personal choices about dying. Maynard had an incurable brain cancer and very publicly foretold the day of her death in Portland, Oregon, on Nov. 1, 2014. Her courage and determination to die on her own terms prompted many a conversation within families about personal views of death and dying.

If ever there were a bill that deserved a public airing, it’s this one. A hearing on the issue would have allowed the Legislature to gauge constituent views on this difficult subject and act accordingly.

Sen. Hardy’s action to shut down the debate effectively forced his personal values upon the many Nevadans who believe in the right to self-determination in health care decisions, including end-of-life options.

Nevadans shouldn’t have to move to Oregon to avail themselves of life-ending medication when their pain and suffering becomes overwhelming. They shouldn’t have to resort to more violent means to end their life or that of a loved one as is recounted in frequent news reports.

For these Nevadans, it’s going to be a long two years waiting for a more enlightened Legislature to take action.