Rhode Island considers Assisted Suicide bill


PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Thursday, May 28, for Senate Bill Number 598, which seeks to legalize Assisted Suicide. Nine Senators sat over the hearing containing a little over 30 attendees. Only one Senator on the Committee is a Republican, Mark W. Gee. Members of the community gave testimony both in opposition of the bill as well as in support of it.

Several witnesses in support of the measure cited the story of Brittany Maynard, a well-known advocate in legalizing “aid in dying.” In January of 2014 Brittany was diagnosed with grade 2 Astrocytoma, a form of terminal Brain cancer.  Her diagnosis was elevated to a grade 4 Glioblastoma with an estimated six months to live. Maynard moved from California to Oregon to take advantage of Oregon’s “Death with Dignity” Law, taking her own life in November of 2014 at the age of 29.

Tim Appleton, a spokesman for Compassion & Choices, said “the right of dying is a choice.” Sen. Archambault (D) corrected Appleton for using the word “force” in reference to Brittany Maynard, for moving from California to Oregon. Sen Archambault: “I’m going to hold you to your testimony.” Sen Lombardi took issue with Appleton for saying that assisted suicide is a fundamental right. “What someone perceives to be a fundamental right and what is a fundamental right are different. This is not a Constitutional right.” Appleton stated he did not use the phrase “Constitutional” when referring to the right of choice, however, Senator Lombardi replied, “That’s the context in which you meant it in.”

Lombardi expressed his concerns with the six months time line language in the bill. “I’m troubled with the fact of an arbitrary timeline to afford this right.”  Referring to breakthroughs in medicine from Duke University, he continued on to say, “I concern myself to opening door when any Dr. might say you have 6 months left to live, you may have more time. This is a lightning rod issue.”Appleton responded “some patients know no matter what they do, the end is near.”

Associate Professor of philosophy, Giuseppe Butera, Providence College, gave compelling testimony opposing the bill. Butera stated that a civilized society maintains a dividing line between the innocent and the guilty. The purpose of such line is “to limit the State’s use of deadly force and to assure the innocent that the State will not use deadly force against them.” Warning of unintended consequences should the State pass such legislation, Professor Butera poised the question, “being innocent would no longer be enough to prevent the state from killing us. If not at the guilty, where would you draw the line? By what authority do you claim to have the right to authorize the killing of an innocent person?”

Dr. Timothy Flanigan, Professor of Medicine at Brown University Medical school, Infectious Diseases, provided expert testimony opposing the measure. Dr. Flanigan explained that when patients are diagnosed with serious illness, depression is a common phase along with an impulse to end life, all of which is self-destructive.  He also soberly expressed warning of cases of abuse in Oregon, where a similar law exists. “If we give a quick easy way out, it’s not good. It’s bad medicine, bad for the individual and bad bad for Rhode Island.”

Currently in the U.S., five states have legalized or decriminalized laws regarding assisted suicide: Montana, New Mexico,  Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Recently the California State Senate Appropriations Committee just voted to move SB 128 out of committee and to a full senate vote.