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Bills to allow medical aid in dying and solidify protections for transgender Nevadans

A close-up image of the state of Nevada’s seal on the exterior of a legislative building. It says, “The Great Seal of the State of Nevada. All for our country.”
Zoe Malen
/
KUNR Public Radio

Purple Politics Nevada is KUNR’s weekly show about the 2023 Nevada Legislative Session. In this week’s episode, host Lucia Starbuck checks in with two journalists about bills to allow physician-assisted death and solidify protections for transgender community members.

Editor’s note: This episode involves discussions of suicide, which may be upsetting for some. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Click here for a transcript of the audio story.


Episode Overview

This is the fifth time legislation to allow medical aid in dying is before the Nevada Legislature. It passed out of the state Senate on Wednesday by an 11-10 vote with two Democrats against the measure.

Senate Bill 239 would establish provisions for who would be eligible to receive life-ending medication. The patient must have a terminal illness and a prognosis of fewer than six months to live. They need to be 18 years or older, have the mental capacity to make an informed decision and be capable of self-ingesting the medication.

“I’ve been doing a lot of interviews with doctors and people who have a terminal illness and they cite lots of pain, delirium. The dying process is not always the easiest, as much as we might hope it would be, and so they say they want this option as kind of a last resort measure,” said Tabitha Mueller, health care and government reporter for The Nevada Independent.

Nevada lawmakers are also looking to ensure standards of care for transgender individuals.

SB 163 would require insurance to cover treatments related to gender dysphoria, which is when someone’s gender identity conflicts with the sex that they are assigned at birth. Transgender community members say gender-affirming care is life-saving, not cosmetic. SB 153 would require the Department of Corrections to create regulations for the security, supervision, medical and mental health care for incarcerated individuals who are transgender and gender non-conforming.

“There are a lot of states across the country right now that are passing legislation to restrict transgender rights. But here in Nevada, even with it being a democratically controlled legislature, some Republicans voted to advance this measure [SB153] off of the Senate floor. I think that’s a pretty good indicator of the state being very supportive of individual rights,” said Taylor R. Avery, state capitol bureau reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Listen to this week’s episode of Purple Politics Nevada with Lucia Starbuck to learn more about the bills these two journalists are following, and what supporters and opponents have to say about the legislation.


Transcript

(UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC BEGINS)

LUCIA STARBUCK, HOST: Welcome to this week’s episode of Purple Politics Nevada. I’m your host, Lucia Starbuck. The name reflects the fact that Nevada isn’t red or blue — it’s both.

This episode involves discussions of suicide, which may be upsetting for some listeners.

Today I’m with The Nevada Independent’s Tabitha Mueller and the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Taylor R. Avery. They’re covering bills to allow physician-assisted death, along with insurance coverage requirements for transgender Nevadans.

(UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC ENDS)

STARBUCK: Tabitha, you’ve been following a bill that would allow medical aid in dying. Walk us through what that means.

TABITHA MUELLER: This is the fifth legislative session that we have seen a bill that would legalize medical aid in dying. This bill would make it so that people who are terminally ill and have a prognosis of less than six months to live be able to request medication designed to end life.

STARBUCK: How would they go about accessing this option?

MUELLER: They would have to be at least 18 years of age or older. They would have to make an informed and voluntary decision — so no one forcing them to do this — and they would have to have the mental capacity to make that informed decision. They would also have to have the ability to self-ingest the medication.

STARBUCK: What are you hearing from terminally ill patients here in Nevada?

MUELLER: I’ve been doing a lot of interviews with doctors and people who have a terminal illness and they cite lots of pain, delirium. The dying process is not always the easiest, as much as we might hope it would be, and so they say they want this option as kind of a last resort measure.

STARBUCK: Have you heard from patients that they consider traveling to another state?

MUELLER: Ten states and Washington D.C. have so far legalized legislation like this, and there’s individuals who have traveled to another state. You would have to establish residency, so for some folks, that’s just not an option. We’ve also heard some stories of people who kind of took matters into their own hands.

STARBUCK: What is the opposition to this bill?

MUELLER: Doctor’s job is to heal and save people’s lives. And there are fears about safeguards and what this might mean for people whose family members might be looking to not have their family member around or looking for that monetary benefit from, like, an estate or something.

STARBUCK: The bill’s sponsor Senator Edgar Flores, he said he used to be against medical aid and dying. What changed his mind?

MUELLER: When he talks about this issue, he talks about a family member who passed away from a terminal illness, and he said that watching his family member pass away in pain really forced him to consider: What does it mean when you have a terminal illness to die that way?

(SOUNDBITE OF EDGAR FLORES): In my opinion, when you have a terminal illness and you are suffering every single second, you’re not choosing between life and death. You’re simply choosing how it is that you want to die.

STARBUCK: Taylor, you’ve been covering bills aimed at improving the lives of transgender Nevadans. One bill would require insurance to provide treatments related to gender dysphoria.

TAYLOR R. AVERY: Gender dysphoria is a psychological condition suffered by transgender people whose gender identity conflicts with the sex that they are assigned at birth. Under the bill hysterectomy, vaginoplasty, gender-affirming facial surgery are all things that are included in that list of medically necessary gender-affirming treatments.

STARBUCK: What are you hearing from transgender community members?

AVERY: During the hearing, a lot of transgender community members and allies said gender-affirming care is life-saving care; it’s not cosmetic. Without this care, it can lead to worsening physical health. Many people who testified in support shared experiences of transgender people they know killing themselves because it affected their mental health so deeply.

STARBUCK: Another bill by Senator Scheible would solidify standards of care for incarcerated transgender individuals. Here’s Sy Bernabei, executive director of Gender Justice Nevada.

(SOUNDBITE OF SY BERNABEI): I’m also a proud transgender Nevadan. I have never been in prison, but I am scared to death of being incarcerated because I know that trans people experience a much higher rate of violence.

AVERY: This bill would require the Department of Corrections director to create standards for the supervision, custody, care, security, housing, medical, and mental health treatment of transgender and gender non-conforming offenders.

STARBUCK: What concerns did lawmakers bring up with this bill?

AVERY: Some lawmakers and opponents raised questions about whether this would allow some inmates to get different treatment. Department of Corrections representatives said the department already complies with many, if not all, of the provisions because of federal guidelines. Scheible said the bill is meant to blanket those protections to make sure that they’re in place.

STARBUCK: How does this legislation compare to some of the policies being passed across the country regarding transgender people that are making headlines?

AVERY: There are a lot of states across the country right now that are passing legislation to restrict transgender rights. But here in Nevada, even with it being a democratically controlled legislature, some Republicans voted to advance this measure off of the Senate floor. I think that’s a pretty good indicator of the state being very supportive of individual rights.

(UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC BEGINS)

STARBUCK: Thank you to this week’s guests, Taylor R. Avery and Tabitha Mueller. I’m Lucia Starbuck. You can join me for a live taping of Purple Politics Nevada on April 26 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. IMBĪB Custom Brews in Sparks.

(UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC ENDS)

DANNA O’CONNOR, HOST: If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

The theme song, “Vibe Ace” by Kevin MacLeod, is licensed under Creative Commons and was edited for this episode.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning political journalist and the host of KUNR’s monthly show <i>Purple Politics Nevada</i>. She is passionate about reporting during election season, attending community events, and talking to people about the issues that matter most to them.
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Purple Politics Nevada is produced by KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck. Vicki Adame is the show’s editor, and Crystal Willis is the digital editor. Zoe Malen designed the show’s logo.