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‘Death with dignity’ bill passes legislative committee, heads to vote in state Senate

CARSON CITY — Terminally ill patients who want to choose when to end their own lives are one step closer to having that right, after the state Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee voted to advance legislation on the topic Monday.

Senate Bill 261, by Las Vegas Democrat David Parks, would allow people who’ve been given six months or less to live to ask a doctor for a lethal dose of drugs that would end their lives, rather than face a lingering, sometimes painful, death.

The committee vote was 3-2, with state Sens. Julia Ratti, D-Reno, Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas and Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson voting yes, and Sens. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, and Dr. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, voting no. Hammond and Hardy asked skeptical questions about the bill at a hearing last week.

The original version of the legislation would require two physicians to concur about a terminal diagnosis, make a patient ask twice for the lethal prescription, at least 15 days apart, allow (but not require) doctors to request a psychologist or psychiatrist to determine if a patient is competent to make a life-ending decision, meet with a patient alone to ensure he or she is not being coerced into requesting the deadly prescription and allow a patient to revoke a request at any time.

But the committee approved an amendment to the bill brought by Parks that would:

• Require a physician to sign a death certificate, listing the underlying terminal disease as the official cause of death.

• Grant patients the right “to a peaceful and dignified death.”

• Add a determination that a patient is not being coerced to a list of requirements that must be satisfied before a patient can request a lethal prescription.

• Instruct the patient not to take the prescribed drugs in a public place.

• Requires that a doctor not prescribe a deadly drug based only on the age or disability of a patient.

• Require the reporting of demographic information and the terminal illness from which the patient suffered to the state Department of Health and Human Services after a patient has used a lethal dose of drugs to die.

• Require the state to prepare an annual report on the number of patients who chose to end their lives.

• Shield physicians, psychologists and psychiatrists from professional discipline for prescribing a lethal prescription or consulting with a patient about that decision.

• Allows hospital employees, health-care facility employees and pharmacists to refuse to participate in a patient’s decision to end his or her life if they so choose. (The original bill allowed doctors to refuse as well.)

The bill — which is exempt from legislative deadlines — now goes to the full Senate for consideration. Democrats — if they vote in unison for the bill — have enough votes to pass it without any Republican support. Seven of the 11 Senate Democrats are sponsors or co-sponsors, and state Sen. Patricia Farley, a non-partisan who caucuses with the Democrats, is a co-sponsor as well.

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