There was State House hearing last week about the Lila Manfield Sapinsley Compassionate Care Act. The proposed legislation will provide a legal mechanism whereby terminally ill patients may choose to end their lives using drugs prescribed by a physician.
Two years ago, my dad said farewell to life on his own terms as he exercised his ultimate civil right. He was almost 95 at the time, and lived in Holland.
- It replicates laws already in existence in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont, and policies put in place through court decisions in Montana and New Mexico. A similar law has been approved by the Canadian Supreme Court.
- The law expands the rights of terminally ill and mentally competent adult patients to end their suffering at the end of their lives.
- Two requests are required, separated by a waiting period of at least 15 days.
- A second physician must confirm the patient’s diagnosis and prognosis.
- Doctors must explain all the health care and treatment options available, such as palliative care, comfort care, hospice care and pain control.
- The physicians must be sure the patient is of sound mind and understands the full consequences of using the medications.
- Medications prescribed under the law must be self-administered, and may not be injected or otherwise administered by the physician or anyone else.
I support most of the above, except for the last requirement, which is highly problematic in the case of degenerative diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s disease or any other terminal condition in which the mind is sound but the body is not. In practice, the self-administration requirement (7) creates a terrible choice precisely of the kind we want to avoid: “If I do not get off now, will I have missed the opportunity to choose my own exit?” I would also prefer a less restrictive formulation of the waiting period (3).
The state has no interest in denying anyone the choice enshrined in this bill nor is it organized religion’s business to deny anyone this choice.
I point out organized religion not be divisive, but because in Massachusetts, where a “Death with Dignity” Initiative was defeated in 2012, most of the money came from Catholic sources and the messaging carefully avoided religious contents and the source of the funding.
The messages were perfectly scripted according to the time-honored principles of the Merchants of Doubt, well-known from: “The jury is still out on tobacco and climate change.” Something like that would of course never happen in Rhode Island, but if you start hearing about a referendum …
For more information about what made the Massachusetts initiative fail see:
I was part of the decision my dad made and I fully accept responsibility for his death. I have never had any doubts nor do I regret my last words to him after I kissed him farewell: “You may go.”