Legislation offering the terminally ill the option of ending their lives on their terms is before state lawmakers — and not for the first time. But with COVID-19, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives around the state, prompting a renewed focus on end-of-life issues, we believe that this will be the time the legislation becomes law.
The End of Life Options Act (H.1926/S.1208) enables a person with a life expectancy of six months or less to request and self-administer medication provided by a consulting physician to end their lives. People confronting pain as they die from a debilitating illness should have this option, and it should not be blocked by the opposition of those of a religious faith that the dying person doesn't practice. While unintentional, opponents on religious grounds are causing people to suffer needlessly to enforce their practices and beliefs.
The person seeking this medical assistance must be deemed mentally competent by a qualified physician. Concerns have long been expressed that greedy families would try to coerce elderly family members to take this option but the bill includes severe penalties for such actions. Nine states, including neighboring Vermont, now have "right to die" or "death with dignity" laws and there is yet to be a documented instance of coercion in the 22 years since the first such law was passed. Similarly, no doctor can be coerced or pressured to participate in an assisted death, and under the law, a consulting physician's responsibility ends with the writing of a prescription for the necessary drugs.
Those states have found that many people who receive the life-ending drugs never use them. They are a backup in case their suffering becomes unbearable. Medical science can do amazing things, but in enabling people with terminal illnesses to live longer the result can be prolonged suffering that patients should have the right to bring to an end.
The legislation is currently before the Joint Committee on Public Health with a May 30 deadline for action. We urge the committee to approve it and put it before members for a vote. Ideally, before the end of the year, the bill will be passed and signed into law by the governor.