Assisted suicide proposal spurs emotional testimony in Carson City

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Ricardo Torres-Cortez

The Nevada State Legislature building in Carson City, NV Friday, April 2, 2021.

Thu, Apr 8, 2021 (2 a.m.)

CARSON CITY — Lawmakers in an emotional committee hearing on Wednesday discussed legalizing assisted suicide for terminal patients in Nevada, listening to passionate arguments both for and against the proposed legislation.

Assembly Bill 352 would legalize assisted suicide in the cases of patients given no more than six months to live.

Assemblyman Edgar Flores, D-Las Vegas, who introduced the bill, described the experience of a family member in end-of-life care and fighting “every second of it.”

“In a very selfish way, I applauded it and I think the reason I did was because for a long time … I’ve always associated (death) with how it relates to me,” Flores said. “And I think I realized that I needed to really go on the other side of that conversation and that’s where it hit me. That it’s not about me, it’s not about you, it’s not about the family member, it’s not about how everybody in that room feels, but rather that individual who suffered every second.”

Nine states and Washington, D.C., allow assisted suicide. The Nevada bill, the fourth time such legislation has been introduced to lawmakers, is modeled on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, which has been in effect since 1997.

It would allow Nevadans over age 18 who have been diagnosed by two doctors with a terminal disease that will kill them within six months to request medication that would end their life. While doctors could prescribe the medication, the patient would have to take it themselves.

A doctor would not be able to prescribe the drugs without first determining that the patient is mentally competent to make the decision and has not been coerced into the decision. If a doctor raises concerns about a patient’s competency, they would have to refer them to a mental health professional.

A patient could opt out at any time, and doctors would not be required to prescribe the medication.

Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, who brought the legislation forward on the three previous instances, said many Nevadans had asked him to pass the legislation since its first introduction. The closest any measure got to passage was in the 2017 legislative session, when the bill was ratified by the Senate but not the Assembly. In 2019, the bill made it out of Senate committee, but did not go to a vote on the Senate floor.

“Some were cancer patients who wanted to have peace of mind knowing they could control their final days, others wanted the assurance that after exploring all traditional options, a legal, safe and peaceful option would be available to them to control the end of their life on their own terms,” Parks said.

Groups including the ACLU of Nevada, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and the Libertarian Party of Nevada are in favor of the bill. Many supporters of the bill called in with poignant stories of their family or friends’ experiences near the end of their lives.

Kim Mazeres, a Reno resident, testified in favor of the bill and said she had discussed a potential relocation to Oregon with her husband to make use of that state’s law near the end of his life.

“Steve’s last 24 hours were horrific,” she said. “He was in a tremendous amount of pain and I scrambled to get him enrolled in hospice.”

Others opposed the bill.

Brianna Hammon, an advocate for people with disabilities, said she was worried about the power the bill would give doctors and potential abuse in regard to disabled patients.

“I need you to understand that if the only alternative is death …. for people who require assisted suicide is poverty and segregation and nursing homes, then it makes no sense to talk about assisted suicide as a choice,” said Hammon, wearing a pin that said “kill the pain, not the patient.”

Brian Callister, a professor and the director of medical student rural education at UNR, has been a noted critic of assisted suicide measures. In the Wednesday committee hearing, he said doctors can be bad at predicting the amount of time a terminal patient will have to live and how good their quality of life may be.

Callister raised concerns that assisted suicide could offer insurance companies a cheaper option in terminal cases and that some patients could feel pressured to take the option.

“The real story here … is when does your right to die become some person’s duty to die? This is not a medical treatment, this is assisted death, let’s make that very clear,” Callister said.

Flores, in closing comments, said that he does not take the conversation lightly.

“I come before you … and engage in a very personal and very complex conversation that a whole host of other states are now engaging in, that we can use and study and continue to evolve and grow in this particular subject matter,” Flores said.

The bill was not voted on during the Wednesday hearing, and no further hearings are scheduled. The bill must pass through committee by Friday evening, or it will die due to legislative deadlines.

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