- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A right-to-die proposal that would allow terminally ill people in Utah to end their lives needs to be studied more before the Legislature can consider passing it, state lawmakers said Thursday evening.

After a 30-minute presentation about the proposal, a state House committee voted unanimously to recommend that lawmakers explore the issue further after their session ends next week.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, said she didn’t expect the conservative Legislature to embrace the plan this year but wanted to at least trigger a discussion about individual rights for someone facing unbearable suffering.

“It’s a good start. This will be a journey, as is the journey that many people face when they’re looking at the end of their lives and they’re facing a very grave terminal illness,” Chavez-Houck said after the committee vote.

Her proposal would let terminally ill people with less than six months to live obtain a prescription that allows them to end their lives.

One of those supporting that option is Sheila Srivastava of Cottonwood Heights.

Writhing in pain and exhausted from a three-year battle with cancer, Srivastava’s mother begged her daughter to give her medication and end her life in April 2014.

The excruciating end caused anguish for Srivastava, who wanted to ease her mother’s pain but feared backlash from other family and the legal ramifications. She ultimately opted not to grant her mother’s wishes. Her mother, Melva Bennett, died later that month at the age of 72.

“I believe everybody has the right to a peaceful passing,” Srivastava said. “No human being should have to experience the pain that my mom experienced on that day.”

Melissa Oligario of Salt Lake City made a similar plea to lawmakers Thursday about her 21-year-old son Eric, who died in February from kidney failure after his “last 24 hours were hell,” she said.

Oligario said her son had said many times he wanted to be able to take pills and have his heart stop in his sleep.

Lawmakers on the House committee, which included four doctors, said they appreciated the discussion but it’s a topic that needs much more consideration.

Chavez-Houck said she began working on the issue after a terminally ill 29-year-old Oregon woman generated a national debate last fall about right-to-die laws.

Her proposal is modeled after a law approved by voters in Oregon more than 20 years ago. Oregon is one of only five states that have physician-assisted suicide laws, though several others are considering legislation.

To be eligible under the Utah proposal, someone would need to be mentally competent, a Utah resident and have two doctors agree on their prognosis.

The bill would require that after a patient initially requests the life-ending medication, the patient would have to ask for it again at least 15 days later. The patient would have to be counseled on the other options and treatments that are available. If a doctor suspects the patient is suffering from depression or cannot fully appreciate what is being asked for, the patient would need to undergo a psychological evaluation.

If someone meets all of those requirements, a doctor would issue a prescription that the patient would take at his or her discretion.

Gov. Gary Herbert has said he’s concerned that a right-to-die bill could be “a right to suicide” and life needs to be respected and revered.

That’s something opponents of the measure raised Thursday.

“This bill, if made into law, would speak volumes about the worth of a life and that that person’s life is less important if they’re not healthy,” said Kristina Eberle with the conservative group United Families International.

Jean Hill, with the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said among her concerns is the prognosis of six months or less to live, which can often be wrong.

“My sister was given a six-month diagnosis for cancer, and she did go on to live six more years,” Hill said, adding that her family relished every moment of that time.

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