No physician-assisted suicide allowance for Utahns

Stock image courtesy of Tomasz Sienicki, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — At the beginning of the 2017 session of the Utah Legislature, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake County, introduced legislation for a Utah statute to allow physician aid in dying. However, on Thursday, her bill effectively died once again in the Health and Human Services Committee.

The End of Life Options Act, designated as HB 76 in the 2017 session, would have made it possible for a mentally competent adult resident of Utah with an irreversible, incurable disease and less than six months to live the choice to seek a lethal dose of drugs to end their life.

Read more: Proponents of End of Life Options bill argue for compassionate choices

Previous to Thursday’s tabling of Chavez-Houck’s bill, Utah was among 21 states considering some form of legislation allowing physician aid in dying. If her bill had passed this year, Utah would have joined five other states with similar statutes.

At the Health and Human Services Committee hearing, emotions ran high as proponents and opponents made similar cases to previous committee hearings. In 2016, the bill was ultimately referred to interim study, something which occupied almost the entire month of July, Chavez-Houck said in a previous interview with St. George News. However, she said she didn’t feel like many members of the committee took advantage of the opportunity as much as she would’ve liked.

“I really wanted them to have an opportunity to ask some logistical questions, some operational, clinical questions – especially the physicians that are on the committee,” Chavez-Houce said, “but that prerogative wasn’t exercised by anyone on the committee.”

At the end of discussion on the bill Thursday, Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Davis County, moved to pass the bill out of the committee with a favorable recommendation, citing his feelings when it comes to his own family and his experiences in the medical field as a family physician.

“However this may go in committee today,” Ward said, “the issue will always be here.”

However, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Davis County, moved to table the bill.

“This is an emotional and a very tough issue,” Ray said. “All of us deal with this or will deal with this at some point in our lives. This is a very fresh thing for me. I lost my mother seven hours ago to cancer, so we have lived this for the past few months. … This is not done out of spite or not having been through this. I’m living through it right now. This is just where my heart is.”

Committee member Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake County, objected to the motion to table the bill.

“We’ve discussed this all summer,” Hollins said. “I think we have had enough time to think about it and to take a position on it and I think we need to move on it. I too have struggled with this spiritually, and I appreciate hearing the stories but I think we need to have a larger conversation and we need to take it to the floor.”

Rep. Edward Redd, R-Cache County, also discussed his own experience in the medical field. He said:

I think there is a vast amount of unknowns certainly about the long-term implications of this change … including putting the government in a position to encourage this sort of situation where you are actually promoting – by telling physicians that they can prescribe this and can help a person take their own life – you are basically promoting a change in culture, a paradigm shift, that in my mind leads to a change in how we approach life and not only that, a change in which the government intervenes in these situations. … This is about a major change in ethics. … You’re going to create a new generation of physicians that aren’t focused on palliative care; they’re going to be focused on giving pills for terminal illnesses rather than trying to make people comfortable.

The motion to table the bill was approved by the Health and Human Services committee by a vote of 9-3-0, with Chavez-Houck, Ward and Ray voting against the motion.

Mark Andrews, committee analyst, clarified that tabling the bill meant it would be held with the Health and Human Services Committee until the committee’s next meeting. It would be placed on the agenda; however, it would require a motion to lift the bill from the table and a 2/3 vote to approve the motion in order for it to be considered further during the 2017 session.

“Chances of that are nil,” Chavez-Houck told St. George News.

When asked her intentions with the issue moving forward, she said she needs to reassess.

“That’s all I can say at this time. I’m still committed to finding a way to help these terminal patients access this option, but with the members of HHS committee being so hostile to honoring patient choice, I need to see if there are other pathways that could be navigated.”


Read more: See all St. George News reports on Utah Legislature 2017 issues

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.


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  • 42214 February 10, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    This state will put a guy up against sandbags and blow his heart to pieces by “sharpshooters” but won’t let you make a personal decision to end your life with dignity when faced with a terminal fate that will lead to agony and suffering. How messed up is that?

    • mesaman February 10, 2017 at 8:35 pm

      A very poor simile. One was charged with a capital crime, the other was supposedly an act of mercy. Your logic is really pathetic.

      • 42214 February 11, 2017 at 9:12 am

        It’s 2 examples of the state deciding who lives and who dies. It doesn’t matter the reasons, your failure to see that is really pathetic.

        • mesaman February 11, 2017 at 7:30 pm

          So may little myopic adversary, are you for or against murder? Your pathetic logic is still dangling. “How messed up it that”?

          • 42214 February 12, 2017 at 11:17 am

            Nolan, debating with you is like trying to reason with Elizabeth Warren. I simply point out the fact that the state exercises authority to kill someone and force another to live. You jump to an absurd hyperbolic position insinuating I could be pro murder? I’m sure you twist your Book of Mormon to legitamizing capital punishment as moral but suicide is not. I just happen to find the State’s moral position as religious based hypocrisy, but then this is just one example of Utah’s hypocrisy. Like being against the sale of alcoholic beverages but then choose to monopolize it and enjoy the profits.

  • .... February 11, 2017 at 12:50 am

    Utah isn’t the only state that won’t let it’s people die with dignity

    • Real Life February 11, 2017 at 10:42 am

      Maybe you could pay one of those other states a visit.

  • theone February 11, 2017 at 8:07 am

    Because of the imaginary sky daddy they believe in, the rest of us can’t be afforded our own free will.

    • Henry February 11, 2017 at 4:41 pm

      In this case, there’s many of us that would be happy to assist you in exercising your own free will.

  • ladybugavenger February 11, 2017 at 11:59 pm

    It’s suicide

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