LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- A bill that would legalize assisted suicide in Nevada was up for debate on Monday.
It was discussed by the Senate Health and Human Services committee.
This was the second time in as many years the state legislature has brought it forward. The measure failed in 2017.
“I think death with dignity is exactly what it is,” Las Vegas District 9 Assemblyman Steve Yeager said. “Folks want to be remembered at their best and not those last few months of life that can be really difficult if they’re suffering with a terminal illness.”
It’s an option that’s already available in neighboring states. But now assisted suicide is up for debate in Nevada.
“To really see the agony from some of the family members who had to watch their loved ones suffer in the final few moments of their life, those stories were very compelling to me,” Yeager said. “And I just think it’s the right thing to do.”
Yeager is one of more than a dozen lawmakers who signed onto SB165. He also supported the bill in 2017, and said this year’s version is the same.
“This is not the scenario where someone says, ‘Well, I just don’t want to live anymore,’” he said. “This really is for situations where there is nothing else that can be done.”
Yeager said the bill has several strict steps for someone to qualify. First the patient must be at least 18 years old and live in Nevada. Two physicians must confirm the patient has only six months or less to live.
Then, the patient needs to make several verbal and written requests for the life-ending drug. A family member and another witness must also agree.
“If the treating physician believes the person may be incompetent legally, they have to be sent to a psychologist or psychiatrist,” Yeager said. “Then there’s a requirement that the physician have a one-on-one private conversation with the patient to make sure this isn’t due to duress or any outside influence on the person’s decision making.”
There is a 48-hour waiting period before a physician can even prescribe the medication.
The bill does not force any doctor or pharmacist to write or fill the prescription.
Yeager said the process is meant to prevent a patient from making a hasty decision.
“This is not something that you could walk in Day 1, say you want to do this and you’re going to get this the next day,” Yeager said. “There’s going to be a minimal of at two and a half to three weeks.”
“If you take those pills, any chance you have of an extended quality of life is gone,” Dr. T. Brian Callister said. “There's no going back on that.”
Dr. Callister is an internal medicine specialist in Reno. He is also the governor-elect of Nevada, American College of Physicians. He’s on the other side of the issue and said the bill sends the wrong message.
“The money should go into education, training and improving care of symptoms at the end of life, not just ending life.”
Dr. Callister added doctors including himself cannot predict the future.
“As physicians we're very, very good at giving diagnoses,” he said. “We're very, very poor at predicting how long you're going to live. The average error in medical literature for our predictions of how long you're going to live is as much as 50 to 70% off.”
Among a long list of worries, he said he is concerned family members of the elderly or disabled may coerce them to ask for the drug. And he believes insurance companies may take advantage of assisted suicide to cut costs.
“You have to be pretty naive not to think, when a cheaper option like lethal pills is available over an expensive life-saving treatment, that creates a perverse financial incentive for payers, for insurance companies,” he said.
Instead, he believes patients and doctors need to focus on ways to extend life, not end it.
“We can control your pain at the end,” Dr. Callister said. “You don’t need a bill that throws pills at you to kill you, as an answer to your symptoms and your fears.”
The hearing started at 3 p.m. on Feb. 25.
Yeager believes it will only be a discussion. No action will be taken for a few days. If approved, the Health and Human Services committee can move the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.