Pennsylvania Medical Aid-in-Dying Advocates Urge Legislature to Pass End of Life Option Act

Polling shows nearly three quarters of Americans support legislation
March 15, 2021

Compassion & Choices Pennsylvania and its volunteer advocates urged state lawmakers to honor the wishes of terminally ill people by passing a bill authorizing the practice of medical aid in dying.

SB405, known as the End of Life Options Act, is modeled after Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which authorizes mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the option to request and receive from their physician a prescription medication they can choose to self-administer to end their life at a time of their choosing. This legislation includes the following provisions:

  • Medical aid in dying Is only available to mentally capable, terminally ill adults who have six months or less to live, are able to make an informed health care decision and are able to take the medication themselves.
  • Medical aid in dying requires two physicians to confirm that the patient is mentally capable and has six months or less to live due to terminal illness, is fully informed of all alternatives including hospice and comfort care, and is making the decision to get a prescription free from coercion. It is illegal to force someone to utilize medical aid in dying, or prevent someone from using it.
  • The patient remains in charge. They request the medication. They choose whether to take it. And they can change their mind at any time. No guardian, conservator or health care agent can request medical aid in dying on behalf of someone else.
  • Medical aid in dying Is optional for patients and optional for doctors. No person is required to use it. No doctor is mandated to provide it. It is illegal to force someone to use it.

“Medical aid in dying offers peace of mind and a measure of control at the end of life,” said bill author Sen. Lisa Boscola (D – Lehigh/Northampton).  “I know that for many terminally ill Pennsylvanians, just having this option will allow them to have the kind of peaceful death we all want, without the fear that they will be forced to suffer beyond what they can bear.”

Retired Nurse and Philadelphia resident Barbara Mancini made national news in 2014 when she was arrested and prosecuted on the felony charge of aiding an attempted suicide after handing her terminally ill  93-year-old father his legally prescribed narcotic, which he took to relieve his suffering. Her father’s home hospice provider ignored his do-not-resuscitate order and he died from pneumonia in the hospital 5 days later, in explicit violation of his legal end-of-life directives.

“If Pennsylvania had a (medical aid in dying) law when my father reached the end of his life, he would have had the option to utilize it, and my family and I could have avoided this horrific experience,” said Ms. Mancini. “The worst thing lawmakers can do is nothing.”

“This bill provides a compassionate option at the end of life for terminally ill Pennsylvanians,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Sharif Street (D – Philadelphia).  “It is always up to the dying person to decide whether to use it, in consultation with their doctor, their family and spiritual adviser. No one will ever be forced to utilize the law, and no medical provider will be forced to participate.”

Medical aid in dying is already authorized in California, Colorado, Hawai’i, Maine, Montana, New JerseyOregon, Washington, Vermont and Washington DC. Collectively, these 10 jurisdictions represent one out of five U.S. residents (22%) and have decades of combined experience successfully implementing this medical practice

“Medical aid in dying would offer, not just me but more importantly my family and friends, a sense of peace. It would allow me to have some semblance of control where all control is lost”, said Philadelphia resident Andy Sealy, a Compassion & Choices volunteer living with stage 4 breast cancer. “It shouldn’t be anyone’s choice how I pass away – I have metastatic breast cancer. Please know that I do not want to die by any means; however, I face my reality on a daily basis. The peace that this bill would offer me and my loved ones, when the end of my time is near, would be invaluable.”

In 2020 national polling73 percent of respondents said they believe doctors should be allowed by law to help a terminally ill person end their life, if the patient and their family request it. That support includes a majority across age, ethnicity, political party, and those who attend church regularly. A majority of doctors in a 2020 survey also said the practice should be legal.

Compassion & Choices
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