LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Arkansas failed this week in a House committee, as none made a motion to advance the legislation to the full House.
House Bill 1536 was introduced by Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, and would have allowed patients who are “diagnosed with a terminal condition” to request a lethal dosage from their doctor. A terminal condition is defined in the proposal as “an incurable and irreversible disease that will, in the opinion of the patient’s physician, result in death within a relatively short time.”
The patient would be required to make two oral requests for the drug, fifteen days apart, and would also be asked to sign a written request in the presence of two witnesses.
The bill would grant a physician immunity from criminal or civil liability if the requirements are followed, in addition to noting to the patient both verbally and writing that he or she “could live longer than the time estimated” and offering the patient an opportunity to change their mind.
The doctor would also refer the patient to another physician to confirm the diagnosis, as well as to a mental health professional or clinical social worker for an evaluation of the person’s ability to make the judgment unimpaired.
“A life insurance company shall not deny benefits to a person or his or her beneficiaries for actions taken in accordance with [the law],” the bill further mandated.
According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Douglas argued on Tuesday that humans even put their pets down when they are suffering.
“I hate to compare humans to animals, but it’s a fact of life we’re all going to die,” he told House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor. “If I have livestock that are suffering and cannot be cured, we help them go. We put them down.”
“Who are we to say, ‘Hey, you can’t take a pill and go to sleep and pass peacefully. You have to suffer, you have to spend two, three, four weeks or whatever more suffering,’ when there is absolutely no hope?” Douglas also remarked last month, according to KATV.
However, hospice and palliative care groups, as well as pro-life groups, opposed the measure, noting there are ways to manage pain and suffering in one’s final days. They expressed concern that patients might simply choose assisted suicide out of fear.
More than 100 church leaders also signed on to an open letter expressing concern over the proposed measure.
“This is not a political issue or a medical issue. This is a social and moral issue,” it read. “People who are terminally ill do not need a prescription for lethal drugs. They need love, compassion, and support in the midst of overwhelming circumstances.”
“It is our sincere conviction that legalizing physician-assisted suicide would harm the families and communities we are called to serve,” the letter continued. “As Christians, we are instructed to love our neighbors and help those who are suffering. We do not eliminate suffering by eliminating people who are suffering. No illness justifies helping a person take his or her life.”
Signees included Kenneth Strickland of Fellowship Baptist Church in Bella Vista, Phillip Bozarth of Grace Covenant Church in Bono, Ben Ghormley of New Life Church in Conway, David Mitchell of Central Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Timothy Senn of The Bible Church of Little Rock, Keith Hogan of Grace Family Church in Pocahontas and Jeremy Carlton of London First Assembly of God.
As there was no motion to send Douglas’ bill to the full House, the measure failed in committee.