PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The state representative proposing a bill to let dying patients end their lives with medication says the bill is about compassion, not suicide.
Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, testified about the Lila Manfield Sapinsley Compassionate Care Act before the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee Wednesday night.
The bill is named for former state Sen. Lila Sapinsley, who died in 2014. Ajello said Sapinsley asked her and Sen. Gayle Goldin to introduce the bill shortly before she died.
Ajello said the legislation is modeled after similar laws in Vermont and California that allow patients to request medication from their doctors that would end their lives.
The bill requires the patient to have a prognosis of death within six months, and not have “impaired judgment.“ It includes a 15-day waiting period after the first request, and requires the second request be made in writing in the presence of two witnesses. One of the witnesses cannot be an “interested person.“
The bill also requires patients to administer the medication to themselves.
“[H] 5555 does not allow euthanasia or assisted suicide,“ Ajello told the committee, referring to the bill number. “It allows more compassion in the care of some of us that are dying.“
The chief opponent of legalizing the practice of medication-assisted death in Rhode Island was not a Rhode Islander, but a lawyer from Washington state named Margaret Dore who runs an organization called Choice is an Illusion.
“Don’t make our mistake,“ Dore told the committee, referring to Washington’s Death with Dignity Act.
She argued that the six-month prognosis is subjective, and patients sometimes live beyond doctors’ expectations. She also said the bill could have unintended consequences, telling a hypothetical story of a son who encourages his terminal father to request the medication “just in case,“ and then persuades or forces him into taking the drug at home.
“Dad dies, and the death certificate will reflect a terminal disease as the cause of death and the son will inherit,“ she said.
Ajello’s bill doesn’t explicitly mention death certificates, but does say actions taken under the legislation “shall not be construed for any purpose to constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, or homicide under the law.“
The bill does not allow doctors to directly administer a lethal dose to a patient, only to prescribe the medication. It also provides immunity to the physicians.
The ACLU testified in favor of the bill, arguing it amounts to the “right to self-determination.“
Nicholas Oliver, the executive director of the Rhode Island Partnership For Home Care, said his organization opposes the bill because of the many hospice and palliative care options for end-of-life care in Rhode Island.
Several passionate members of the public also testified at the hearing.
“My mother died horribly of cancer,“ said Barry Schiller. “There’s no dignity in constant pain that they don’t know how to control. There’s no dignity in that kind of situation. We don’t allow our pets to suffer that kind of thing.“
“We wish to classify a subgroup of people as legally eligible to be killed,“ said Craig Cooley, an opponent. “We have violated our nation’s commitment to equality before the law. ‘Ah, you’re no longer worth living, you frail elderly woman, you sick grandfather, you disabled boy. Thanks for the paperwork, though.‘“
No vote was taken on the bill Wednesday night. A spokesperson for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he does not have a stance on the legislation.