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home : most recent : statewide implications August 15, 2018

1/5/2018 6:26:00 PM
'Death with dignity' bill introduced in Indiana House

Scott L. Miley, Pharos-Tribune CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — Corey Polen was hiking with his wife in Arizona when he rolled his right ankle.

Upon returning home to Brownsburg, he brushed off the injury for a few months.

"My foot kept getting worse," Polen recalled Thursday. "Then it started being a drop foot where you walk and it smacks down on the ground."

In early 2016, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, often known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, a progressive neuro-degenerative condition that affects nerve cells, the brain and the spinal cord.

Most people who develop ALS live from three to five years afterward.

Polen saw his mother die from colon cancer at the age of 50. Now, he's supporting an Indiana House bill that would allow a patient with a terminal disease to use medication to end his life.

"My goal in introducing House Bill 1157 is to start a conversation between legislators and their constituents about end-of-life issues," said Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, the bill's author.

The legislation is based on Oregon's "death with dignity" law enacted in 1997. Four other states — California, Colorado, Vermont and Washington — and the District of Columbia have similar measures. The Indiana bill has 10 safeguards to ensure the patient wants to end his life.

Pierce's bill details the process by which patients, 18 or older, can intentionally self-administer a lethal drug. They must have a terminal illness with a medical judgment that the patient cannot recover and death will come within six months.

Among other requirements, the patient must file a "Medication to End My Life" request with the Indiana State Department of Health. Anyone, other than the patient, administering the medication would face a Level 1 felony charge similar to murder.

There was speculation Thursday that about 1,200 Hoosiers might be eligible to explore the option. Currently, there is hesitancy among doctors to assist in a patient's death; many fear they could be arrested.

"I have a suspicion that in many cases doctors are helping their patients in this situation and are just not making it known to people," Pierce said. "That's because there's no legal structure, and you have to provide the doctors with civil and criminal protection."

Polen, a computer programming manager, uses a cane to walk.

"This bill would help me have resolve and not be so anxious about my end life," said Polen, 42, a married father of three children, ages 18, 15 and 12.

"I don't know necessarily if I would take it," he said. "This would be a choice between me and family, but just getting the ball rolling will take a big load of stress off of other patients like me."

While no state medical associations have publicly supported the bill, Indiana Chapter of Compassion and Choices of Indiana advocates for the expansion of end-of-life options.

"What we find when we listen to people with terminal illnesses is that they yearn to live as long and as fully as they can for as long as their disease allows them a reasonable quality of life," said Bev Hmurovic, president of Compassion and Choices.

"What they don't want is a prolonged and painful dying process," she said.

Related Stories:
• Will Indiana lawmakers give terminally ill Hoosiers 'Death with Dignity' option?
• EDITORIAL: 'Death with dignity' should be considered by Indiana legislators
• COMMENTARY: Indiana's 'Death with Dignity' bill deserves consideration

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