[Right_to_die] Missouri Euthanasia law changes considered

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Tue Oct 11 15:15:42 PDT 2005


The Columbia Missourian Reports:

Missouri Euthanasia law changes considered
October 10, 2005
By BRODIE GOVAN

Current state law mandates that doctors resuscitate patients despite
family’s wishes.

As new Chief Justice John Roberts and his Supreme Court colleagues clash
over an Oregon law that allows doctors to assist terminally ill patients
end their lives, the debate is under way in Missouri as legislators and
end-of-life groups review the state’s position on doctor-assisted suicide.

The Missouri End of Life Coalition held a summit in Jefferson City last
Thursday and will begin compiling a report for next year’s Missouri
General Assembly.

The coalition aims to educate Missourians and policy-makers on end-of-life
matters in the hope that legal battles such as the Terri Schiavo case —
concerning a Florida woman who died earlier this year after her feeding
tube was removed — aren’t repeated in Missouri.

The aim of the coalition is to change legislation that says doctors must
attempt to resuscitate patients regardless of the family’s wishes.

But the decision about doctor-assisted suicide could be out of the hands
of Missouri legislators. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide whether
the federal government, not states, has the final say on the issue.

Speaking Thursday at the summit, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said he holds
reservations about following the example of the Oregon law, which has been
used to help 208 people end their lives since it was passed in 1997.

“The Oregon debate is a very contentious one that must be considered
carefully, but at this stage I am not ready to embrace doctor-assisted
suicide,” Kinder said.

The Oregon law states that terminally ill but mentally competent patients
can choose to end their lives after providing written and verbal consent,
receiving two doctors’ diagnoses and waiting a mandated period of time.

Attorney General Jay Nixon has been heavily involved with the coalition
and its mission to raise awareness about end-of-life arrangements. Nixon
was involved in the right-to-die case of Christine Busalacchi, a
22-year-old Missouri woman who died in 1993 after her feeding tube was
removed. His position is similar to the coalition’s.

“I’m very concerned about the state injecting itself into the private life
of our citizens,” Nixon said. “I’ve always felt strongly that decisions
must be made by families in the privacy of their own home with their
doctor.”

The summit’s message was that end-of-life issues and living wills must be
discussed now, rather than later.

“Society must no longer view end-of-life arrangements as a taboo subject,”
Kinder said. “But we are at an early stage as no debate has taken place in
Missouri, as we’re only beginning to listen to ideas and opinion that I’ll
take back to the governor and General Assembly.”

The coalition was formed in 1998 after growing frustration at a perceived
lack of support from state legislators.

“Missouri is in the minority in the U.S. when it comes to end-of-life
legislation,” said Debra Oliver, chair of the coalition. “The main thing
we want to change is the law saying doctors must resuscitate, even when it
is against the family’s wishes.”

Nixon and the coalition published a booklet last year providing
information and forms to create a living will and designate power of
attorney. More than 50,000 have been distributed, and another 50,000 have
been downloaded from the Internet.

“More Missouri families need to sit down around the kitchen table and make
certain their loved ones know their wishes,” said Nixon, who was honored
at the summit for his contribution to the coalition.

“Jay loaned us a staff member, supplied funding and added our details to
his Web site,” Oliver said.

Oliver expects that opposition to the coalition’s goals will likely come
from anti-abortion organizations.

“Our main opposition is groups that believe in extending life at all
costs, mainly anti-abortion groups,” she said.

Patricia Skain, executive director of Missouri Life, an organization that
promotes right-to-life legislation, is monitoring the situation.

“We will be watching with interest to see what develops from the summit,”
she said.



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