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Nev. Lawmakers Consider Right to Die Legislation

Paul Boger

Nevada lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to "die with dignity." Senate Bill 261 gives doctors the ability to prescribe drugs designed to end the life of a patient with less than six months to live. Supporters call the proposal a blessing for those people left without treatment options. Opponents argue that the measure is a slippery slope that would give doctors permission to kill. 

29-year-old Brittany Maynard made national news when she publically announced she would end her own life after being diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor.

Maynard lived in Oregon, the first state to enact physician-assisted suicide laws. At that time, her decision rekindled national debate on whether terminally ill patients should have the right to die on their own terms. Since then, California, Colorado and the District of Columbia has enact “death with dignity” legislation, and soon Nevada could next state to do that.

SB261 gives adults who have been diagnosed with a fatal illness leaving them with less than six months to live the right to end their lives. Las Vegas Democratic Senator David Parks introduced the bill.

Credit Paul Boger
Supporters and opponents of right to die legislation gather in the Senate Health and Human Services committee room to hear a presentation on SB261.

But the measure is facing strong pushback. When lawmakers held a hearing on the measure Wednesday, dozens packed into the small committee rooms in Carson City and Las Vegas to voice opposition. The crowd included doctors, nurses, pharmacists, advocates and even patients -- many wearing stickers saying “kill the pain, not the patient.”

Reno Doctor Brian Callister says physicians often misjudge how much time any given patient has left.

However, it appears that Nevadans want a right to die law. According to a recent poll by commissioned by the Death with Dignity National Center and conducted by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling shows that 72 percent of Nevadans support laws like Oregon’s and California’s.

In addition, advocates for the bill say Callister’s arguments are the same as those used when Oregon adopted its right to die laws in 1994. Peg Sandeen is the executive director of Death With Dignity – a group that has pushed for legislation like SB261 across the nation.

Stephanie Packer is a 34-year-old mother of four who was diagnosed with a debilitating and potentially fatal condition called pulmonary fibrosis, leaving her with only a few years to live. Being from California, one of the few states with right to die laws, Packer claims her insurance will not cover her life-saving treatments, but it will cover the medication needed to commit suicide.

Credit Paul Boger
Debbie Black of Carson City

But for as many people who testified against SB261, there were just as many pushing for the bill. For Carson City’s Debbie Black, who has been battling cancer and now a brain tumor for the past two decades says it should ultimately be her decision to end her life when the time comes.

If Nevada doesn’t pass the measure, Black says she is considering moving to another state when the time comes. 

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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