For years, many state lawmakers have been working quietly to put forward Death with Dignity legislation, and with the recent shift in the national conversation around end-of-life healthcare policy reform, some politicians are taking a more vocal stance. Within the last few years, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin made Death with Dignity part of his campaign platform; New Jersey Assemblyman John Burzichelli introduced and is championing his proposed Death with Dignity legislation; and Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach has begun being more vocal in his support for the Death with Dignity bill he proposed.
His bill emulates our model legislation, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. In an editorial published this week, Senator Leach outlined why Pennsylvania needs to follow in the footsteps of Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. He pointed out how Americans want and seek out options in all facets of their lives:
The desire for choice seems to be in America’s DNA. As a people, we demand a cornucopia of choices in virtually every aspect of our lives. We demand everything from 31 flavors to 800 channels. We go to The Cheesecake Factory to choose between 300 menu items, in a mall with 400 stores…Yet we have, for the most part, passively accepted the denial of any choice in the one area of life where it perhaps means the most. In most places in this country, we can not choose how we want our lives to end.
He went on to explain specific provisions of the proposed Pennsylvania legislation:
The bill requires that any person wanting the medication fill out and sign a notarized form, indicating that they themselves were making the request. They would then need two separate doctors, a treating physician, and a non-treating independent physician to attest that the patient has a terminal disease and has less than 6 months to live. Only then would the medicine be disbursed.
Senator Leach addressed opponent’s false assertions which we’ve heard since Oregonians voted on the groundbreaking Death with Dignity Act in 1994; he pointed out the proposed law would only be an option for people who are clearly dying as a result of a terminal illness. He also reflected on the experience of people who’ve exercised their rights under other states’ Death with Dignity laws that “just having the medicine, and the options it brings, is enough comfort to enable them to keep going.”
Poignantly, he ends his op-ed by summing up the true aim of Death with Dignity laws: patient centered care.
Ideally, the end of life is a time filled with sadness, but also sweetness, reconciliations and meaningful goodbyes. It is an intensely personal time that should be choreographed and lived by the person and the family affected.
Senator Leach’s editorial is part of the growing public demand for laws to allow terminally ill people to decide what’s best for themselves in their final days, and it’s refreshing to see more and more politicians calling on their fellow lawmakers to stand up and respect the will of the people.
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