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Bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide stalls in Arizona Legislature

In this photo taken Aug. 27, 2015, John Jay Hooker stretches in his bathroom as he gets ready for the day before a doctor's appointment in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

PHOENIX — In August 1997, Barbara McGuire held her father’s hand as he died from a chronic lung disease.

“When I sat there holding his hand and watching him take his last breath and struggling to breathe and suffocate to death, it was more than I could bear,” Sen. McGuire (D-8) said. “I felt like I was letting him down. There was nothing I could do.”

Now, McGuire is a state senator, so there is something she can do. Along with a few other Democratic legislators, she’s sponsoring SB 1136, which would legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients that a doctor has deemed have less than six months to live.

“When there is no quality of life, I don’t think that they should be should be subjected to having to go through torturous suffering,” McGuire said.

McGuire said she modeled the bill after Oregon’s version of a death with dignity bill that became law in 1997.

The majority of Arizonans support this legislation, according to a November 2015 study
performed by the Behavior Research Center.

Denny Flaherty, who has a terminal illness, finds himself among the majority.

“There’s no recovery. There’s no cure. It’s not reversible. There’s no hope,” Flaherty, who volunteers for Compassion and Choices Arizona, said. “So why don’t I have the option of going out with some dignity?”

But SB1136 and similar bills in years past have stalled in the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Republican Senator Nancy Barto (R-15).

“The so-called ‘right to die’ may soon become a ‘duty to die’ as our seniors, disabled and depressed family members are pressured or coerced into ending their lives,” Barto said in a statement. “This is happening in other countries where physician-assisted suicide is legalized and it’s destroying the trust patients have in their health care providers.”

Pro-life groups agree with Sen. Barto.

“What they’re trying to do here is kill a patient before God is ready to call them,” Joe Perron, president of the East Valley Pro-Life Alliance said.

McGuire said that because it is so likely the bill won’t make it past committee, she’s scheduling a public hearing on the issue sometime in March.

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