Iowa advocates seek legalization for end-of-life options

Six states have medical aid in dying laws

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DES MOINES — Iowans struggling with terminal illnesses and those with family members suffering in severe pain appealed to state legislators Wednesday to approve medical aid in dying for people voluntarily seeking end-of-life options.

Six states allow life-ending medical decisions and bills have been offered in both the Iowa House and Senate to allow competent adults who are Iowa residents and terminally ill with less than six months to live as verified by two doctors to voluntarily request medication that would end their life.

“When facing the final stages of a terminal illness, Iowans should not be forced to relocate to another state to control how their lives end,” said Rep. Brian Meyer, D-Des Moines, who has championed the concept since watching his mother suffer an agonizing death from lung cancer.

Lori Gibbs, a Dubuque woman who is a member of the Compassion & Choices advocacy group, told of her six-year battle with a rare and difficult form of cancer that is recurring and advancing.

“There is nothing left that will stop the progress of this awful disease,” Gibbs told a Statehouse news conference. “I am determined to exhaust every option to live as long as I can, to watch my seven grandchildren grow up. But when there’s nothing left but pain and suffering, I don’t want to linger in and out of a coma while my family looks on helplessly.

“I want the option to die peacefully and I deserve that,” she said. “It is time for lawmakers to hear my plea. Access to a peaceful death on my own terms shouldn’t be determined by where I live. We want the same freedoms as terminally ill people in six other states.”

John Tapscott, a former legislator and Indianola resident living with cardiac amyloidosis, said he first pushed this legislative concept in 1968 and now nearly 50 years later “here we are again.”

Tapscott urged advocates to raise the issue with their legislators, their neighbors, their family members and their communities, but he and others conceded that the proposed end-of-life options act probably won’t get far in the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature.

Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, chairman of the Senate Human Resources Committee, said that probably is a correct assumption.

“It’s not something that I think we’ll see come out this year,” Segebart said. “It’s not an issue that we’re promoting at all. I actually ran on anti-abortion issues — life begins at conception and ends at natural death.

We’ve all had family experiences with this issue. It’s gut-wrenching at times, but we always learn something from it.”

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said medical aid in dying legislation is a challenging issue that will require some convincing to get it enacted.

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