When people think of end-of-life care, it is often met with a very emotional response, both in favor and against. The debate around the subject continues to keep the option away from those that need it.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Nevada Legislature’s Health & Human Services Committee held a hearing to listen to arguments both for and against end-of-life care in Nevada. This issue, which has wide support nationwide, is being heard for the fifth time in Nevada.
This bill would establish a system to provide prescribed medication, the dispensing and administering of said medication to end the life of a patient.
Sen. Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) introduced the bill to the committee with the help of two presenters. They expressed the importance of this option for those that are terminally ill.
Flores said he was on the opposition side of this bill before but has changed his mind due to being more exposed to this issue through “death” symposiums as well as personal experience with family.
“If I go back six years, I did not agree with this conversation,” said Flores. “It was because I had not had an opportunity to have sat down and gone through a very personal encounter, an emotional relationship that really put into focus and forced me to engage in this conversation in a way I hadn’t done before. Because it was no longer anecdotal but it was now something personal.”
According to Flores, the issue surrounding this bill is not whether a patient is choosing between life and death, but more how they have to experience the inevitable death. Senate Bill 239 has guidelines and is influenced by other state laws around the country that have seen the importance of this type of legislation for both terminally ill patients and their families.
Samantha Trad, who is the National Director of Care Advocacy at Compassion & Choices Action Network, helped present the bill and explained the requirements for those seeking end-of-life care.
“The law protects physicians, they’re allowed to opt-out,” said Trad. “So if their doctor decides not to support them in this then they have to find a doctor who will. The doctor is not required to support the patient through the process for medical aid in dying and it’s really important that a patient doesn’t fall through the cracks that they’re able to be supported so that they can find a doctor who will support them. That’s why the doctor should refer the patient to a doctor who will support them.”
Requirements include being 18 years or older, terminally ill with six months or less to live, having the mental capacity to make decisions and having the ability to self-ingest the medication.
The process would have multiple steps such as making an initial verbal request, waiting 15 days before making a second verbal request, consulting a practitioner, being evaluated by a second practitioner and submitting a written request via a qualified witness.
This witness cannot be related to the patient, nor can they have the ability to inherit anything from the patient.
According to Trad, in the 25 years that this has been legal in other states, there has been no substantiated instance of abuse or coercion of this kind of legislation.
There were many people who wanted to testify about the bill, both in favor and opposed, so the committee limited the time to 15 minutes of testimony for the different opinions. Those who supported the bill included two people who are currently dying of their illnesses and spoke in favor so that even if they could not benefit from this law, others could.
“To have this end-of-life care option in Nevada would mean the world to me and my family and to terminally ill Nevadans who already know that their life is ending,” said Lynda Brooks-Bracey, who is dying of pancreatic cancer. “Unfortunately, given my rapidly declining health, it is unlikely that I will be alive when this bill becomes law. But I remain hopeful that it will be an option, if not for me, for countless others.”
The other supporter, Hanna Olivas, who is 49 and has a rare form of incurable blood cancer, spoke for the third time in support of this type of legislation. She said that everyone in her life supports the decision to end her life and that it is a personal decision that should be between the patient, her family and her doctor.
Those speaking against SB239 cited what they called the dangers that could accompany this type of legislation, such as affecting the elderly and disabled. The fear was that doctors would make the decision for the patients.
Flores said both during and after the presentation that this bill would be completely voluntary and would only open another option for those suffering in their final days. The patient would be the one responsible for taking the medication if they decided this was the best course of action.
According to Trad, 72 percent of Nevada voters are in favor of medical aid in dying solutions for the terminally ill. This spanned both major political parties as well as different religious groups and ages.
Similar laws exist in 10 states and in Washington, D.C.