“Right to die” bill being unveiled in the Utah State Legislature

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A state lawmaker is planning to unveil a so-called "right to die" bill in the Utah State Legislature this week for terminally ill patients.

House Minority Whip Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, is drafting what she calls a "Death with Dignity" bill. In an interview with FOX 13 on Monday, Rep. Chavez-Houck said it would allow patients with a terminal diagnosis to obtain a prescription from doctors that could end their lives.

"What we’re talking about is autonomy and self-determination," she said.

The bill is supported by Sheila Srivastava, whose mother, Melva Bennett, died last year after a battle with endometrial cancer. Srivastava said her mother was in agony and there was nothing anyone could do.

"She said, ‘Please just give me all of that medicine,’ and she was asking me to help her end her life," said Srivastava. "I just couldn’t do it and I felt so badly that she was at that state and I couldn’t help her in that state."

Srivastava said legislation like Rep. Chavez-Houck's could give terminally ill patients more options when it comes to choosing their care -- all the way to the end of their life.

"It is the power of the patient to have the ability to make the decision for themselves in a humane, kind way," she told FOX 13.

Under the proposed bill, terminally ill patients would have to sign a legal form insisting this is their choice. A pair of physicians would have to review and prescribe the lethal drugs -- with a 15-day waiting period before it could be administered.

"They can’t just ask for it and get it immediately. If either of those physicians feels that the person is being, is asking it under duress or coercion, there’s psychological issues that need to be dealt with, they can refuse to sign that and ask that person to have a psychological evaluation," Rep. Chavez-Houck said. "So there are a number of safeguards."

Rep. Chavez-Houck's bill comes as the Utah State Legislature begins to look closer at patient's rights. Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Hunstville, is sponsoring a "Right to Try" bill that allows terminally ill patients to try experimental medications not yet through the full FDA approval process when all other options are exhausted.

Rep. Froerer said he was willing to entertain the discussion of "death with dignity."

"Before I would support the concept, I would have to look at the bill, specifically, the language. I support the concept that people the right to make decisions on what’s best in their lives," he said Monday.

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said it opposes any such bill.

"We think we should kill the pain and not the patient," said Jean Hill, the diocese's government liaison.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not have any comment on the bill, but said it has historically opposed what it terms "euthanasia."

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in the sanctity of human life, and is therefore opposed to euthanasia. Euthanasia is defined as deliberately putting to death a person who is suffering from an incurable condition or disease. Such a deliberate act ends life immediately through, for example, frequently-termed assisted suicide. Ending a life in such a manner is a violation of the commandments of God," it said in a statement Monday.

Srivastava said it was her hope that people would see the value of the legislation. Rep. Chavez-Houck said she did not anticipate her bill going very far this session, but believed it would be back next year.

"I think it’s going to be the beginning of a discussion and a dialogue," she said. "I want it to be looked at as part of the whole continuum of care options that individuals have at their perusal and prerogative."

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