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‘End of life options’ a nonstarter at Statehouse

February 7, 2018
Campbell Campbell.

Connie Campbell, 68, of Carmel, can be described many ways.

She is wife to her husband of 36 years, Stanley (“Skip”), 67. She is mother to their son, Nick, 26, and daughters, Marissa and Alessya, both 25. She is grandmother to their only grandchild, Marco. She’s also strong-willed, especially when it comes to the end of her life.

“I’m like a cat on a hot tin roof if somebody tries to control me,” she said. “I feel controlled by not being able to make my choices.”

In the past five years, Campbell has been forced to think about her options — or lack of them.

She was diagnosed with essential thrombocythemia, a rare bone marrow cancer, in 2013. Her grandmother died at 42 of a myeloproliferative disorder. Her mother died of leukemia at 64, and her aunt at 73. She said her disorder — which may or may not turn into leukemia — is treatable through chemotherapy, but incurable.

“(We) don’t like to think about our impending deaths, but, sometimes, when you get those diagnoses, it just kind of slaps you in the face,” she said.

Last year, she was diagnosed again; this time with Stage 1 breast cancer.

She said her treatment for this new ailment was also going well, but the pressure to prepare was greater than ever.

Campbell said she no longer wishes to live when the pain becomes unbearable, she can no longer care for herself, she can’t participate in enjoyable activities, and she feels robbed of her dignity.

But her wishes are superseded by law. Indiana is not among the seven jurisdictions in the country that authorize medical aid in dying. California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C. do, however.

For the second year in a row, a legislative push for an End of Life Options Act failed to gain traction.

Different year, same result

Pierce Pierce

During the last legislative session, Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, introduced such legislation as House Bill 1561. After being assigned to the Committee on Public Health, the bill failed to receive a hearing.

Pierce said he was inspired to author the bill after a reporter for the Herald-Times, Carrol Krause, wrote columns and blogs about her nearly two-year fight against incurable ovarian cancer. Pierce said many constituents urged him to do something to help expand the available options for those in Krause’s position.

“She made very strong argument that she wished that she had the option in Indiana that other people had so that she could avoid some needless suffering and end her life on her own terms with some dignity,” he said. “She did pass away, but that ... jump-started the conversation.”

Pierce once again took on the issue this legislative session when he introduced HB 1157. Pierce said he used Oregon’s 1994 first-in-the-nation Death with Dignity Act as a model. HB 1157 would allow patients with a terminal illness who meet certain requirements to make a written request to an attending physician for medication that they may self-administer to end their life. The bill also prohibits an insurer of a life insurance policy from denying payment of benefits based on a suicide clause.

This year, the bill was instead assigned to the Committee on Courts and Criminal Code, which Pierce said was “a little bit of a strange place to send it.” He said he suspected it had to do with the bill’s Level 1 felony penalties for willfully altering, forging, concealing or destroying a life-ending request, or intentionally coercing a patient to request such medication.

Washburne Washburne

House Speaker Brian Bosma did not respond to requests for an interview. Erin Reese, communications director for the Indiana House Republicans, cited House Rules that stipulate: “Any bill which adds an additional or enhanced criminal penalty may be referred (to) ... the Committee on Courts and Criminal Code.”

Committee chair Rep. Tom Washburne, R-Inglefield, said Pierce’s bill would not receive a hearing given the schedule.

“The analysis did not involve the merit for this bill,” he said. “Off the cuff, I would say … government’s involvement in a topic like that I would do with great reservation and great concern.”

Fight over terminology

Hmurovic Hmurovic

Bev Hmurovic, president of Compassion and Choices Indiana, said she doesn’t use the term “assisted suicide” when discussing the bill.

“This is not that,” she said. “This is the individual obtaining a prescription, which they themselves must take for it to be legal.”

Dr. Andrew Mullally, of Credo Family Medicine in Fort Wayne, is a member of the Dr. Jerome Lejeune Catholic Medical Guild of Northeast Indiana and the Indiana Alliance Against Assisted Suicide. Stressing he was speaking only for himself, he said, “I think it’s a semantic trick. … The movement has attempted to change the nomenclature … to make it sound more palatable, or to muddy the waters to make it more confusing for folks that are not on the front lines.”

Mullally Mullally

Slippery slope?

Frost Brown Todd attorney Jeff Dible works in estate planning, taxation and general business law. He said he’s seen several clients, friends and family members suffer through excruciating pain as they died of terminal illnesses. He said this was a particularly controversial issue among religious conservatives.

“This has always been a touchy issue, he said. “It’s going to continue to be one.”

Mullally said his own faith played a “tangential” role. He pointed to Belgium and the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal, including for those with mental or cognitive disorders. He said he worries for those like his brother, whose severe mental impairment has rendered him nonverbal.

Dible Dible

“In Europe, right now he would most certainly be coerced to end his life because that’s common practice,” he said.

Hmurovic said she rejected this line of reasoning, pointing to the fact that Oregon’s law remained unchanged.

“This law is not going to help anyone with psychological issues or with dementia,” she said.

Looking ahead

Dible said he expected Pierce’s bill will return in future legislative sessions.

“The bill was … well-drafted,” he said. “I think it hits all the issues. ... I would personally support having it available in Indiana.”

Campbell Campbell

As for the Campbells, Skip said his family would relocate if Indiana continued to disallow the practice.

“What I’ve always felt is that a person ought to be able to make those decisions for themselves,” he said. •

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