Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rhode Island, Providence Journal Article
"This bill encourages people to throw away their lives"

By Jennifer Bogdan, Journal State House Bureau

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Susanna Brown couldn't make it to the State House Wednesday night to testify against a bill that could allow her to end her own life. 

The 75-year-old North Scituate resident has breast cancer that has spread to her bones, and she's struggling with her latest chemotherapy treatment. So she sent her daughter, Julie Lamin, to tell lawmakers this:

"She insisted that I come and speak on her behalf because this bill insults the dignity of her life," Lamin said. "She wanted to tell you that her life is valuable until that last breath and that this bill really scares her ... because someone could say, 'Well you're going to be suffering, and we don't want you to suffer. You can end it early.'"

Brown was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2008. Her family expected she might live a year, but with treatment she has experienced the "many joys and sorrows and everything that goes along with life since 2008," Lamin said. "If you take hope away, you get despair. And if you get despair, you just get more suffering."

And yet, Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, said suffering is exactly what she she hopes her bill would eliminate.

The legislation would allow anyone determined by a physician to be "capable" and of sound judgement who has been given six months or less to live, a pathway to ending his or her own life with a prescription. Thirty-five people signed up to testify on the bill that was vetted by the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee Wednesday.

In describing the need for the legislation, Ajello spoke about a Providence resident who died this winter after refusing all nutrition and fluids once he fell ill.

"He bought about his own death by refusing to take anything. It was a painful death. This legislation would provide something quicker and not painful," she said.

The bill's advocates call it death with dignity. Those who oppose it call it physician-assisted suicide. It's a divisive issue regarding a practice that's legal in just a handful of states. Some argue such laws prey on the elderly and disabled. Others say they provide a choice.

"I don't think it's government's job to decide how someone will conduct the end of their life," said David Finnegan, co-chair of the Secular Coalition for Rhode Island.

Tim Appleton, an organizer for the national advocacy group Compassion & Choices, argued that there are safeguards built into the bill to ensure people are not taken advantage of. It's a choice to ask to receive the life-ending medication, and after it's received a patient can still decide not to take it, he pointed out.  "What would opponents suggest to those that are really dying?" he asked.

Margaret Dore, an attorney in Washington state where assisted suicide was legalized in 2008, cautioned lawmakers to consider the details of the bill. In some cases, a person who has insulin-dependent diabetes can be considered to have a terminal illness, she said.

"This bill encourages people to throw away their lives," Dore said.