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Brittany Maynard’s mother testifies in support of Nevada end-of-life bill

CARSON CITY The mother of a young woman who made world headlines by taking life-ending medication to end her suffering from a brain tumor came to the Nevada Capitol on Wednesday to support a bill allowing doctor-assisted suicide.

During a tearful press conference, Debbie Ziegler held a digital magazine cover with a photo of her daughter, Brittany Maynard, and explained why she supports the proposed legislation.

“Brittany and I never want families to experience what our family went through,” Ziegler said. “We had to move to be able to use this law.”

Maynard suffered a brain tumor and moved with her family from California to Oregon to take advantage of Oregon’s “death with dignity” law. Maynard ended her life on Nov. 1, 2014.

“And before she left me, she said, ‘Mama, speak up. Even if your voice shakes, Mom, even if you cry, pay it forward. I want you to pay it forward.’

“And that’s why I’m here today,” Ziegler said.

Supporters say Senate Bill 261, heard Wednesday by the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, would empower the terminally ill to decide when to leave the living. The bill was scheduled for a hearing twice this session before being canceled each time at the last minute.

Even if approved by lawmakers, it faces a possible veto by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

“The governor does not support this policy,” Sandoval spokeswoman Mari St. Martin said in an email.

An ‘option’ for the suffering

Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, a main sponsor of the bill, said a recent poll found nearly three in four Nevadans favor the proposed legislation.

“This bill only provides an option for those suffering from a terminal illness,” Parks said. “It is time to end the idea that there is nobility in pain.”

Opponents counter the measure is dangerous and a dramatic change in public policy. They argue there is no “dignity” in suicide and that such a law would invite health insurers and others to encourage the old, frail and sick to kill themselves.

At a press conference last month, Stephanie Packer, a 34-year-old California woman with multiple health issues, said she was diagnosed in 2005 with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage skin, joints and organs. Over the years she’s had teams of doctors treating her conditions and pain.

After California enacted assisted suicide, the mother of four said her insurance would no longer cover her expensive medications, but she could obtain life-ending drugs for a co-payment of $1.20.

Packer, confined to a wheelchair, attended Wednesday’s hearing.

Dr. Brian Callister, a Reno physician, described SB261 as “giving physicians permission to kill.” He and other critics argued that treating pain and depression were better, ethical options.

No action was taken by the committee.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Follow @SandraChereb on Twitter.

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