Bill would give terminally ill patients ‘right to die’

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A pair of Rhode Island state lawmakers have introduced legislation aimed at providing a way for suffering, terminally ill patients to end their lives on their own terms.

The bill would guarantee a legal way for patients to manage their own deaths through medication prescribed by a physician, as long certain criteria is met.

A physician would first have to verify the patient has a terminal condition and is aware of other options. The patient must then obtain a documented oral request by a doctor, then a second oral request no sooner than 15 days later.

The physician is required to then give the patient an opportunity to rescind the request, before the patient submits a written request signed in the presence of two witnesses.

State Sen. Gayle Goldin, D-Providence, introduced to the Senate the Lila Manfield Sapinsley Compassionate Care Act, named after the late state senator. Sapinsley was working on similar legislation before her death in December at the age of 92.

“Lila cared deeply about this issue, so it’s only proper that the legislation she fought so hard to create should bear her name,” Sen. Goldin said in a statement. “Lila Sapinsley worked tirelessly all her life to make things better for people, and I’m only too proud to introduce this legislation in the same chamber where she once so graciously served.”

State Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, sponsored identical legislation in the House.

“I know Lila felt strongly about this bill and wanted to ensure that the rights and wishes of patients were recognized and protected,” said Rep. Ajello. “That’s why at least one of the witnesses may not be a relative, heir, staff of any facility where the patient resides, or any other person who could benefit from the death.”

Under the legislation, no doctor, nurse, or other healthcare worker would be legally required to prescribe a lethal dose for a patient, nor could they face and criminal or civil penalty for doing so.

Rhode Island would become the fourth state to enact such a bill, joining Vermont, Oregon, and Washington.

A similar proposal was put before Massachusetts voters in 2012, but it failed to win approval.

The House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare is set to hear the legislation Wednesday.

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