Parks on assisted suicide bill: “This is the third, and I hope last attempt”

Structure of pentobarbital barbiturate, a drug used in assisted suicides. [Alfred Pasieka/Science Photo Library/Getty]

After failing to gain traction on assisted suicide bills in past legislative sessions, Sen. David Parks reintroduced legislation that would allow a terminally ill patient to end their life.

Senate Bill 165, which was heard Monday in front of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medications to patients who are diagnosed with six months to live. The option is only available to people older than 18 and residents of Nevada.

The legislation also puts in safeguards to ensure assisted suicide isn’t exploited, such as having two physicians confirming the terminal diagnosis and requiring the patient, who also has to be deemed competent by a psychologist, to make two requests wanting a life-ending prescription. One request has to be verbal and the other has to be written, the requests have to be 15 days apart, and the the submitted written request has to be signed by two witness who aren’t related to the patient or have nothing to gain for their death.

Six states and the District of Columbia have passed similar legislation according to the Death with Dignity National Center.

In 2017, the bill passed the state Senate but died in the Assembly. Citing requests from multiple constituents with cancer, Parks, D-Las Vegas, said he decided to bring it back.

“This is the third, and I hope last attempt, to enact this legislation,” he said. “I think even healthy patients would have peace of mind knowing we have this option.”

Republican Senators Joe Hardy and Scott Hammond raised concerns with the legislation. They worried not enough was being done to prevent patients from being coerced into the decision, monitor the misuse of medication, or deter “suicide tourism,” in which people would move to Nevada specifically to die.

Peg Sandeen, the executive director of the Death with Dignity National Center, told the committee that assisted suicide isn’t used often in states that have legalized it — she added Oregon has had about 1,000 patients use it in a 20-year period.

Hammond questioned whether the rise of suicide rates had any correlation with those states passing assisted suicide bills.

“There is no evidence there is a relationship between those two,” Sandeen responded. “I look at the experts and the medical journals. They have looked at this and have come to the conclusion that death with dignity does not increase this.”

Other questions included whether patients could make requests to physicians via telemedicine — the law, as written, is unclear. State Sen. Julia Ratti, who chairs the committee, said they can work on clarification to address telemedicine usage.

Supporters of the legislation included Dan Diaz, who told lawmakers about his wife Brittany Maynard, who ended her life after 10-month battle with terminal brain cancer. Maynard, who had to move states to be eligible for assisted suicide, received national media attention for her story.

Diaz has been traveling to various states that have been debating whether to pass legislation to make assisted suicide legal. “It was a promise I made (Brittany),” he said.

Some opponents to bill said they worried people would choose to die not because of the actual pain of their illness, but because they feel they are a burden on the family. One woman in opposition whose husband also died from brain cancer said it would have been too easy for him to use the life-ending medication on days he was most depressed.

Nevada physicians spoke both in favor and against the measure.

Speaking on behalf of the Nevada State Medical Association, Catherine O’Mara said the association is neutral to the legislation, adding that members are split down the middle on support and opposition — though O’Mara said the organization would probably oppose allowing physician approval to be done via telemedicine.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.

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