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Contentious 'medical aid in dying' bill receives Nevada Assembly committee hearing

Brittany Maynard and her husband Dan Diaz (Photo credit: Dan Diaz)
Brittany Maynard and her husband Dan Diaz (Photo credit: Dan Diaz)
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A contentious bill that would allow medical-aid-in-dying in Nevada is making its way through the state Legislature. A nearly four-hour Wednesday hearing brought forth impassioned debate from both supporters and opponents.

The bill, SB239, had its first hearing in the Health and Human Services Assembly Committee in Carson City on Wednesday. It narrowly passed the Senate last week with an 11-10 vote. Two Democrats joined the Republicans to vote against it.

SB239 would allow mentally competent and terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the option to end their life on their own terms.

Currently, ten other states, plus Washington, DC, have similar legislation. This is the fifth time a "Right to Die" bill has been brought forth in Nevada, but the Senate passage and Assembly hearing are giving hope to advocates.

"I've been here nine years with the organization, and this is the furthest that we've come through with this bill," said Patricia Gonzalez-Portillo, communications director for Compassion and Choices. Compassion and Choices is an organization advocating for medical-aid-in-dying throughout the U.S.

New polling from Susquehanna Polling & Research and sponsored by Compassion & Choices showed 82% of Nevadans support the measure.

Regardless, opposition pressure has been mounting as the bill further moves through the lengthy legislative process.

Over the weekend, the Nevada Catholic Conference took out full-page ads in Reno and Las Vegas newspapers speaking out against SB239. The letter was signed by faith leaders of other denominations as well.

"The Nevada Catholic Conference, we've taken the position that—and this echoes Church teaching—God alone is the author of life and the arbiter of death," said Montie Chavez, co-director of the Nevada Catholic Conference. "And so it's through our faith, through our Church's teachings, that only God should be the one that takes a person's life."

Chavez said they'll continue fighting against this bill as the process moves forward.

On the other side of the issue are supporters like Dan Diaz. His late wife, Brittany Maynard, chose to end her life in 2014 when she was 29-years-old after suffering through a terminal brain tumor. She became a national face for the movement and appeared on the cover of People magazine.

Dan and Brittany had to move to Oregon because it was the only state at the time with medical-aid-in-dying legislation.

"She was already suffering from pain that not even morphine could alleviate. The seizures, the nausea, the vomiting, things are just getting worse," said Diaz. "And so on the day that Brittany decided, she was able to, with her family and friends there, experience a gentle death. Within five minutes of taking the medication, Brittany fell asleep. Within 30 minutes, her breathing slowed to the point where she passed away. So that's what this program is about. Period full stop."

Diaz said he made Brittany a promise to pass this legislation around the country, which is what brought him to Nevada. He testified on Wednesday to the committee.

In response to the arguments made from Nevada faith leaders, Diaz said he was frustrated.

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"I was Catholic, but Brittany wasn't. Who has the right to insist upon her, or anyone here in Nevada, that they should endure the horrible suffering that cancer might bring on to this individual as they're going through treatments and doing everything they can to live?" Diaz asked.

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