Senate committee hears bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide in R.I.


PROVIDENCE — With bills pending in the state House of Representatives and Senate, Rhode Island is the latest state to consider physician-assisted suicide.

Proponents and critics of the latest measure — Senate Bill 320 — testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 25. Pro-life leaders turned out to warn lawmakers about the consequences of allowing terminally-ill people to end their own lives.

“Making this practice lawful would put your constituents, your friends, you family and even yourselves at risk,” said Barth Bracy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee.

Bracy also told the Senate committee that the legislation — which would permit people given a diagnosis of less than six months to live the ability to obtain a lethal dose of drugs — would encourage Rhode Islanders “with years or decades to live to throw away their lives.”

“It is a recipe for the exploitation of senior citizens even as elder abuse is already a growing problem in Rhode Island,” Bracy said.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Gayle L. Goldin, D-Providence, the deputy majority whip. The bill is entitled the Lila Manfield Sapinsley Compassionate Care Act, which is named after the late Rhode Island politician.

Goldin told the committee that Sapinsley, before she died in 2014, had asked her to sponsor the bill, which she sought to assure lawmakers contains adequate protections against abuse.

“This would give people the opportunity under medical care, in collaboration with their physician, to make a determination to request medication when they are dying to ensure they have the capacity to make the decision when that death may happen,” Goldin said.

The euthanasia lobby, led by the nonprofit Compassion & Choices, has been pushing an aggressive national strategy to legalize assisted suicide since the high-profile case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and traveled to Oregon in 2014 to legally end her life.

In 2018, 21 states introduced so-called aid-in-dying bills, though only Hawaii signed such legislation into law. More recently, New Jersey legalized assisted suicide on April 12. Physician-assisted suicide is currently legal in the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Catholic and pro-life leaders in other states such as New York, Maine, Maryland and Connecticut have been partnering with a diverse coalition of medical providers, advocates for the disabled and elderly, and others to push back against the relentless campaign of the assisted suicide lobby.

After New Jersey passed assisted suicide, Catholic Medical Association President Dr. John Schirger released a statement affirming the dignity of human life and opposing all efforts aimed at ending life unnaturally.

“Whether caring for an infant or providing compassionate palliation at the end of one’s life, we must never abandon a patient at any stage,” Schriger said in prepared remarks.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed the concerns over assisted suicide in the 2011 document, “To Live Each Day with Dignity.” The bishops acknowledged that many people fear death and physical suffering, but they added that society is called to respond to those fears with love and assistance.

The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in its 1980 Declaration on Euthanasia, said that the request of a gravely-ill person who asks for death is “almost always a case of an anguished plea for help and love.”

Michaela Cheffers of the Patients Rights Action Fund, a secular nonprofit that advocates against efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide, told the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee that the measure is “poor public policy” that puts the most vulnerable citizens at risk of unintended death through the unintended consequences of medical mistakes, coercion and abuse.

“Suicide is not real medical treatment,” Cheffers said. “Our families deserve more than that.”

Catherine Glenn Foster, the president and CEO of Americans United for Life, a national pro-life non-profit advocacy organization, also testified before the senate committee to argue that the bill would place vulnerable populations at risk while failing to protect the integrity and ethics of the medical profession.

“Rhode Island should continue to protect the lives of all of its citizens,” said Foster, who urged lawmakers instead to study, identify and treat the underlying causes of suicide.

In March, Foster testified against the House version of the legislation, H.B. 5555. That bill is still pending. The senate bill is also pending as the judiciary committee voted on April 25 to hold the legislation.