State should not interfere with life and death decisions of terminal patients

The founders of this nation were adherents to the concept of natural law, especially as outlined by philosopher John Locke, who stated that all individuals have the right to self-determination over their own lives, liberty and property and no government — whether king or democratic majority — may deny these rights.

Therefore, we suggest that a state law being proposed by state Sen. David Parks — dubbed by some as a “death with dignity” law — not be described as “giving” terminal patients the right to doctor-prescribed life ending medication, sometimes called assisted suicide, but rather as denying the state the power or authority to punish or prosecute anyone for providing such assistance.

Modern medicine has greatly increased the ability to prolong life, but it has also increased the ability to prolong death, too often an agonizing and painful one.

Parks’ bill could clear up Nevada law, which currently does “not condone, authorize or approve mercy-killing, assisted suicide or euthanasia,” though it does “not affect the right of a patient to make decisions regarding use of life-sustaining treatment, so long as the patient is able to do so, or impair or supersede a right or responsibility that any person has to effect the withholding or withdrawal of medical care.”

Such laws have given us the legal term DNR, do not resuscitate, a document too often ignored by medical staff fearful of litigation or prosecution.

Essentially, in too many cases, the law requires a terminal patient to lie in a drug-addled state in an aseptic hospital or hospice room and starve to death — hardly any more humane than stranding grandma on an ice floe in the river — but that person may not choose to terminate his or her own life to avoid those days or weeks that can hardly be called “life.”

We argue the state should have no right to dictate such decisions to any rational individual.

Opponents raise valid concerns about abuse but such a law merely restores natural law rights and does not open the door to street-corner suicide clinics where jilted boyfriends could ask to be hooked up to the suicide machine. Not rational.

State Sen. Parks told the Las Vegas newspaper he was prompted to introduce the bill because “almost everyone whom I’ve talked to has a devastating story to tell regarding a friend or relative who died under unbearable circumstances where this legislation would have provided an alternative to enduring excruciating agony.”

Parks says his bill will be modeled after Oregon’s 1997 Death With Dignity Act.

That law has strict requirements for prescribing lethal medication that must be administered by the patient and prohibits a doctor or other person from administering life-ending drugs. The patient must be 18 or older, a resident of Oregon, capable of making such a decision and diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months.

It requires the patient to make two oral requests 15 days apart and the doctor must believe the patient’s judgment is not impaired. The patient must be informed of alternatives, such as pain medication and hospice care. All lethal prescriptions must be reported to a state agency.

Parks, a Las Vegas Democrat, already has two co-sponsors, state Sens. Tick Segerblom, also a Las Vegas Democrat, and Ben Kieckhefer, a Reno Republican.

Should they have any difficulty pushing the bill through the Legislature in the 2015 session, they should bring it before voters, many of whom have indeed known friends and family members who have endured unnecessary pain and suffering because of government interference in their lives and deaths.

A version of this editorial appears in this week’s The Ely Times and the Mesquite Local News.