Indiana Daily Student

Bloomington representative authors death with dignity bill

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, first thought of introducing a "death with dignity" law after reading blogs and columns from Carrol Krause, a late Bloomington writer and Herald-Times columnist. 

Krause suffered from a rare form of ovarian cancer. Before she died in 2016, she spent months fighting through radiation and chemotherapy, and many more months suffering. When she realized she was going to die, she started to look toward options of ending her own life. 

Indiana does not currently have a physician-assisted death law, which allows for terminally-ill patients to seek medication to end their own lives. Krause spoke out, writing on her blog and in guest columns for the Herald Times, and soon she became Pierce’s motivation.

Pierce introduced House Bill 1157 this session, which allows someone suffering from a terminal illness to make a written request to a physician asking for medicine the individual could self-administer to end his or her own life. 

Krause wrote a Jan. 29, 2016, Herald-Times column arguing for Pierce's bill, saying her situation was unlike that of a healthy person who kills himself or herself.

“I do not end a healthy life filled with promise,” she wrote. “Instead, I seek to hasten the inevitable and painful death that looms on my horizon.”

Pierce said no patient wants to die, but none want to suffer either.

“All they want is to have a long life,” he said. 

When it comes to extreme pain or a difficult death process, however, many people find it troubling to continue living. 

The law is not designed for anyone to have the ability to end his or her own life. There are many steps one must go through before the physician can give him or her the medication, Pierce said.

The patient must make two oral requests followed by a written request. On the first request, a doctor can refuse to give a patient medication if he or she feels the patient is not fit. Often, if the patient suffers from depression or another mental illness, a doctor will not write the prescription.

If he or she sees no reason to refuse, however, a physician can agree to the request. The patient must wait 15 days before asking again. If the patient still wants to go through with it, he or she must submit a verbal request to the same doctor. 

A physician must make sure there are no issues or conditions that would cloud a patient’s judgment, Pierce said.

Along the way, a physician must also explain the risks of the medication and the benefits of other options, like hospice.

Indiana's proposed bill is modeled after Oregon’s 1997 Death with Dignity Act, which allows terminally-ill patients to end their lives through voluntary self-administration of a lethal medication.

Pierce describes his bill as a "death with dignity" law. He said it’s important to step away from the term “physician-assisted suicide.” This term can be misleading, he added. In his bill, the patient has to administer the medication himself or herself. 

He added in Oregon, only a portion of people who are prescribed the medication actually use it. He said having the option to end one's own life on one's own terms gives the patient peace of mind.

For Carrol's brother, Jim Krause, a Media School senior lecturer, it’s sometimes difficult to see the argument against a death with dignity law. 

“Why wouldn’t any civilized country allow us to do this?” Jim said. “It’s not fair to let people suffer.”

Before she died, Carrol went through multiple rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. Jim would sit with her and read “The Lord of the Rings” or watch TV shows on Hulu. 

Jim said Carrol unfairly suffered for a long time. As she continued to suffer, Carrol and her family researched other options, and when she realized Indiana had no law allowing for death with dignity, she used her writing to speak out.

For Carrol, writing about what was happening to her seemed like the most natural thing, Jim said.

“She went into it with open eyes and wrote about her experiences,” Jim said.

Just months before she died, Krause wrote in her Jan. 29, 2016, column that after careful consideration, she would choose a physician-assisted death in a heartbeat.

In her column, she urged citizens to reach out to their legislators and encourage them to pass the bill. She wrote it wasn’t too late to save a family member or friend from unnecessary suffering.

“Why do lawmakers believe that dying people need to experience every possible moment of pain?" she wrote. 

Pierce’s bill faces a majority-Republican general assembly. He said legislators may be in a situation where they are nervous to talk about this topic because its subject matter is controversial.

If legislators talk to their constituents about the topic, he added, they might find that many Indiana residents are in support of this bill. 

“I want to begin a conversation on this issue in Indiana,” Pierce said.

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