AR Legislature bill would give ‘death with dignity’ option to terminally ill

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A new bill would allow terminally ill patients in Arkansas to end their lives with the help of a doctor. 

A handful of states have passed these “death with dignity” laws. 

“Some things in life are worse than death,” said St. Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, who filed the bill. “I’ve had friends that have suffered with bone cancer. I’ve been in a room, you hear a pop and it’s the bone breaking from the pressure of the cancer inside. Just the agony and trauma.”

The legislation would create an exception to the state’s ban on physician-assisted suicide by allowing doctors to prescribe these patients with lethal doses of medicine to end their lives if they prove to be clear of mind. A patient would have to ask a doctor twice over a two-week period to write the prescription. If the doctor chooses to do so, he or she would also have to file a report with the Arkansas Department of Health.

The physician would be immune from liability. The bill would also not require health care facilities or providers to participate in the procedure.

“Really, it’s quite a bit of paperwork and a lot of red tape and discussions with the family and the patient,” Douglas said. “Family members can’t say, ‘Oh, we want to knock grandma off and get the money.’ There’s provisions to prevent that. There really are.” 

Family Council, a faith-based group in Little Rock, wants to kill the bill before these conversations could begin.

“There’s not a crying need here in Arkansas for people to go out and kill themselves just because they have a bad disease,” said Jerry Cox, the organization’s president. 

Cox argues the state has resources for terminally ill patients, like hospice and palliative care. While hospice begins after treatment stops, palliative care can begin at the diagnosis.

Cox is also concerned about loopholes in the legislation.

“They could be getting the drugs to kill somebody else if they wanted to,” he said.

Cox is hoping Arkansas’ pro-life legislature delivers a similar vote in this case if it gets to that point.

“Life is sacred from the moment of conception until natural death,” he said.

But Douglas argues the state should not deny the dying a basic human virtue of the living: dignity.

“Shouldn’t people be allowed to go to sleep and end their suffering if that’s what they want?,” he asked.

Douglas met with the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of Arkansas Thursday morning.

In a statement, the organization’s executive director, Lisa Vaden, said it does not have an official position on physician-assisted suicide. 

“The hospice and palliative care philosophy is to value life; we neither hasten death nor prolong life. Hospice and palliative care offer complete care for the patient with a terminal illness. We walk alongside patients in their final months to days, managing their symptoms such as pain and anxiety, addressing their emotional and spiritual needs, and supporting the family and caregivers by teaching, preparing, and even providing respite when needed. When patients and families share their fears, our staff listen and provide ways to manage those fears, bringing the sense of relief and comfort they need. Hospice provides patients and their families with a good end-of-life experience, and palliative care supports patients and families at all stages of a serious illness. HPCAA believes educating Arkansans on hospice and palliative care and increasing access throughout the state are the best ways to ensure patients receive the care, respect and comfort they deserve throughout their disease process as well as at end-of-life.”

Douglas plans to get more public input in the following weeks before running the bill. 

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Aaron Nolan is a morning show co-host in Little Rock, Arkansas with Nexstar Media Group's KARK-TV. He has a passion for social media and makes it an important part of his daily routine. Click here to read Aaron's full bio.

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