Physician-assisted suicide bill offered in Iowa House

Medical DripNine Democrat legislators have offered a bill that would establish Iowa as the fourth state in the country to have enacted physician-assisted suicide legislation.

State Reps. Brian Meyer (D-Des Moines), Dennis Cohoon (D-Burlington), Cindy Winckler (D-Davenport), Sally Stutsman (D-Riverside), Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City), Timi Brown-Powers (D-Waterloo), Mary Lynn Wolfe (D-Clinton), Marti Anderson (D-Des Moines), and Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Ames) offered House File 65, also known as the Iowa Death With Dignity Act, last week. It provides for a patient, who is deemed mentally competent, to request a physician-assisted suicide.

The bill states medication to end the patient’s life will only be administered to patients who have been diagnosed, and verified by at least two physicians, with a condition that will end their lives within six months. It lays out several steps that must be completed first.

Under HF 65, the patient must make an initial oral request, followed by a subsequent oral and written request no less than 15 days later. After a 48-hour waiting period, during which time the patient can change his or her mind, a prescription will be written for the life-ending medication.

The bill directs the responsibilities of the attending physician and the consulting physician, and includes a provision for counseling if the attending physician deems it appropriate. There are notification of next-of-kin and documentation requirements included in the proposed legislation, as well.

“The bill provides for the effect of a request for medication to end the person’s life on the construction of wills, contracts, and statutes as well as on insurance and annuity policies,” the bill’s explanatory statement reads. “The bill provides that the provisions of the bill are not to be construed to authorize a physician or any other person to end a patient’s life by lethal injection, mercy killing, or active euthanasia, and that actions taken in accordance with the bill shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, or homicide under the law.”

HF 65 was also written to not be interpreted as lessening the standards of care for attending and consulting physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other health care providers who are acting under its provisions. It also provides immunities for those who act in good-faith compliance with the bill.

Under the bill, a health care provider is not to be under any duty to participate in an assisted suicide, particularly in cases of moral or religious objections.

The Portland, OR, based Death With Dignity National Center has been spearheading efforts to pass this kind of legislation in every state since 1994. Oregon voters approved a referendum in 1994, and the law went into effect in 1997.

Washington passed its law in 2008, which went into effect in 2009. Vermont became the third state to passed this type of legislation in 2013, and it was signed into law immediately.

In Montana, in 2009, the state Supreme Court ruled nothing in state law prohibited a physician from complying with a patient’s request to prescribe medicine to hasten his or her death. Since then, a number of bills have been offered to ban the practice, but none have been passed.

Last week, a judge in New Mexico ruled a terminally-ill patient in that state had a constitutional right to request a physician-assisted suicide. That case is still in the appellate process.

So far, only the Iowa Board of Regents has weighed in on HF 65, declaring itself undecided.