ATLANTA – Georgians with terminal illnesses would have the option of taking medication to end their lives under a state Senate bill introduced this week.
Under Senate Bill 291, dubbed the “Georgia Death with Dignity Act,” patients given a prognosis of six months or less to live would qualify to request aid-in-dying medication that they may take themselves. Several requests and assessments from at least two physicians would be required before the person could receive the medication, which supporters say would reduce the risk for abuse.
If passed, doctors or loved ones who help the terminally ill end their lives would no longer be subject to criminal prosecution. Currently, the practice is a felony under the state’s assisted-suicide law that can result in a prison sentence.
Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, the bill’s sponsor, said he sees the option as a “humane and sensible way” to ease a dying person’s pain. He came around to the idea after hearing from a constituent last year who had terminal pancreatic cancer and wanted access to aid-in-dying medication.
“For people suffering, it would ease their pain and make that transition easier,” said Henson, D-Stone Mountain. “I think it’s common sense.”
Henson noted the bill includes measures to prevent relatives or others with financial interests from pressuring terminally ill persons to kill themselves. A person’s attending physician would need to consult a second doctor to determine that person’s mental capacity. A written request for the drugs would also need two signatures, one of which could not be a relative, spouse, heir to an inheritance or someone with power-of-attorney.
The bill is poised for pushback from religious groups. The Georgia Baptist Missionary Board passed a resolution in 2017 opposing life-ending medication. The conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition also rejects it.
“We have all heard real life stories of people who have outlived their diagnosis, and we believe that every life should be given every opportunity to live,” said Adam Pipkin, the coalition’s executive director.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta also opposes the bill, arguing in a statement Friday that it targets the elderly and disabled persons.
“We will urge the Georgia General Assembly to do all it can to protect Georgians from this cruel practice and to ensure those who are ill, disabled or facing the end of life receive comprehensive medical and palliative care instead of facilitated suicide,” the Archdiocese’s statement says.
A handful of other states have enacted end-of-life laws including California, Oregon and New Jersey. Legislative pushes to change assisted-suicide laws stemmed from the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old with terminal brain cancer who moved from her home state in 2014 to a different state that allowed aid-in-dying drugs.