JUNEAU — An Anchorage lawmaker introduced legislation Monday that would give terminally ill patients the right to decide to end their lives with the help of a physician.
Democratic Rep. Harriet Drummond said it’s not suicide but rather an option for people who are already dying. She said in an interview that it’s about giving patients and their families peace of mind.
HB 99 would allow adults suffering from a terminal illness and deemed capable of making a decision to die to do so. It would allow for the person’s doctor to dispense or write a prescription for medication that would end the person’s life. However, a doctor would not administer the medication; patients would take it themselves, Drummond aide Kristin Kranendonk said.
The bill defines a terminal disease as one that has been medically confirmed, is incurable and will “within reasonable medical judgment” result in death within six months. It provides immunity from civil or criminal liability or professional disciplinary action for acting in good faith, including being present when a person takes medication to end his or her life.
To receive life-ending medication, a person would have to make oral and written requests to his or her doctor and repeat the oral request more than 15 days after the first one. If a person cannot speak, the request must be made by some means in person. If the person cannot write, he or she can have another sign on their behalf.
At least two witnesses would be required for the written request, only one of whom could be a relative, an heir or someone who works at the health care facility where the person is being treated or lives. The doctor would not count as a witness, the bill states.
The death last year of Brittany Maynard in Oregon brought the issue back into the national conversation. Maynard, 29, had brain cancer and ended her life with lethal drugs available under Oregon’s Death With Dignity Law.
Drummond said in a news release that everyone deserves the right to make their own end-of-life choices. She said the goal is to increase patient control and reduce “unwanted and often unnecessary interventions at the end of life.”
A Colorado House committee rejected a similar proposal last week after a long day of emotional testimony from more than 100 people. Doctors who opposed the measure said it closed off the possibility of a recovery when a prognosis can sometimes be wrong.
Lawmakers in California and Pennsylvania also are considering laws to let terminally ill people get doctor-prescribed medication to die.
Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont allow patients to seek aid in dying. In New Mexico, a court ruling cleared the way for it, but that ruling is being challenged by the state’s attorney general.