BY NANCY REES
IOWA LAKES UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST FELLOWSHIP
Across America, public opinion now favors laws allowing terminally ill patients who meet specific criteria the right to die with dignity. In the 2014 Harris Poll, 7 out of 10 U.S. Adults (74 percent) agreed that "individuals who are terminally ill, in great pain, and who have no chance for recovery, have the right to choose to end their own life."
Oregon was the first state to make that choice a legal right. Its Death with Dignity Act, passed by ballot initiative in 1994, was reapproved by voters in 1997 by a vote against an attempt to repeal the new law, and then upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006. This law established that mentally competent adults who have been diagnosed as terminal within six months, and meet the qualifications laid out in the law, may receive a prescription for medication to end their lives.
Statistics show that during the first 16 years of Oregon's experience with the law, it has worked as intended. None of the problems that opponents predicted arose, and, very importantly, no incidents of abuse were found. Also, of the 1,173 patients who received and filled the prescription, up to 40 percent never chose to use the medication. For some, simply having the option provided peace of mind. In 2013, 97.2 percent of DWDA patients died at home, which is one of the wishes most often expressed by terminally ill patients.
Other states have followed Oregon's lead: Washington in 2008, Montana in 2009, Vermont and New Mexico in 2013, and California in 2015. Twenty-four states, plus the District of Columbia, introduced Death With Dignity bills to their legislatures in 2015.
The Iowa bill, SF2051, which is modeled on the Oregon law, was introduced to the State Legislature in January 2016 and sent to the Senate Human Resources Subcommittee for review. This subcommittee conducted hearings in February and March, but did not move the bill forward at this time.
Many medical organizations support Death With Dignity legislation, including the American College of Legal Medicine, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the American Associations of Family Practice, Hospice and Palliative Care, and Public Health; and this number is growing.
Dr. Marcia Angell of Harvard Medical School, a former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, argued in favor of Death With Dignity legislation in the Boston Globe in September 2012.
"This is not a matter of life versus death, but about the timing and manner of an inevitable death," she wrote. "Why should anyone -- the state, the medical profession or anyone else -- presume to tell someone how much suffering they must endure as their life is ending?"
More information about this important issue is available from "Compassion & Choices," an organization that "works for the day when every American can live and die in freedom, in dignity, and according to his or her own values."
See the C&C website, www.compassionandchoices.org, for suggestions on how to approach this conversation with loved ones, documents for end-of-life directives and updates on Death With Dignity legislation in your own state and across the country. You will also find ways to advocate for this legislation and share information regarding end-of-life decisions with the public, health care professionals, lawmakers, and the media.
Please visit www.legis.iowa.gov for more information on the Iowa Death With Dignity Act (SF2051), including the full text of the law, and to find contact information for your state legislators.
To arrange a presentation on Death With Dignity for your club, organization, church, or family group, and/or a showing of the award-winning documentary "How To Die In Oregon," which explores both sides of this complex, emotionally charged issue, contact Nancy Rees at firstname.lastname@example.org.