Lawmakers discuss right-to-die legislation

  • By Molly Dischner
  • Thursday, April 9, 2015 9:02pm
  • News

JUNEAU — During an emotionally charged hearing Thursday, lawmakers heard personal testimony from individuals who believed a loved one would have benefited from the right to choose to die with the help of a physician.

The House Health and Social Services Committee discussed a bill proposed by Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, that would allow terminally ill patients to choose to end their lives.

Alaska is one of at least 17 states considering such a law, including California, where the discussion was recharged when a former resident, Brittany Maynard, moved to Oregon to end her life in 2014.

Oregon has allowed people to make that choice since the 1990s. It is also legal in several other states.

The proposed law would apply only to Alaska residents who have six months or less to live, and it would require that they work with two physicians on the diagnosis and choice.

It also would require that the process stop if anyone involved suspected that the individual was being coerced to make the choice to die. It calls for a waiting period of more than 15 days between the first request for the medicine and a prescription being written.

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, told the committee that he scheduled a hearing on the bill because he had a personal connection to the issue. At 103 years old, his father opted against kidney dialysis, and at 104 years old told hospice workers that he was ready to go. They could provide morphine to ease his pain, but not enough to let him end his life, Seaton said.

“At what point does the nanny state take over and say, ‘No, you can’t make decisions for your life. We’re going to make them for you?’” said Seaton, the committee’s chair.

About half of the people who spoke Thursday supported the bill, and many of those shared similar stories about what the bill would have meant for a close friend or relative.

Those who opposed the legislation raised concerns that if it passed, the law could be abused. Some testifiers also said they believed the bill violated the sanctity of life, and some doctors said they believed that helping a patient die violated the Hippocratic oath.

Drummond said she was not in a rush to get the bill passed and would work on addressing some of the potential issues raised, such as a concern about whether the medication had to be self-administered. She also plans to look further into issues related to care for people with serious illnesses and those near the end of their lives, Drummond said.

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