Medical professionals expressed strong opposition Wednesday to proposed legislation that would allow people who are suffering from incurable medical conditions to acquire and self-administer medication that will end their lives.
Representatives of people with disabilities and religious spokesmen also joined in opposing the bill (LB450) introduced by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.
Chambers told the Legislature's Judiciary Committee that "no third party -- including the government -- has the right to interfere with, impede or countermand the wishes" of a person who is suffering pain and agony with no hope of recovery.
The bill provides that no other person may assist in administering the medication, he said.
Opponents argued that the legislation could lead to "undue influence by others" and "fear of being a burden to others" as pressures that might lead to ending one's life, rather than agony or pain.
There sometimes also may be "economic incentives" in play, Michael Chittenden, executive director of ARC of Nebraska, warned the committee.
His organization advocates for people with disabilities.
Dr. Stephen Doran, an Omaha neurosurgeon who spoke for the Nebraska Medical Association, said the bill "fails to ensure the competence of the patient" and does not eliminate the possibility of coercion.
Some patients "may not have the ability to provide informed consent," he said.
Dr. Lloyd Pierre Jr., a Bellevue family physician, told the committee: "We are there to help, not to kill."
People could change their minds after beginning to yield to pressure to end their lives, he said, and "they need our protection."
The elderly, the disabled and the poor in particular may feel those pressures, Jeff Kanger, representing the Nebraska Catholic Conference, told the committee.
"There is a better way of treating suffering," he said.
Chambers said his bill is written in a way that does not constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, homicide or elder abuse.
"Pointless, needless pain -- wholly useless agony -- and suffering and the loss of personal dignity is neither 'good' or 'ennobling,' nor does it comport with the concept of human dignity," he said.
Under terms of the bill, the patient would need to express a request for life-ending medication both orally and in writing and both an attending physician and a consulting physician would need to concur that the patient is competent to make medical decisions and is acting voluntarily.
Amy Miller, legal director of ACLU of Nebraska, supported the proposal as "a personal and private right."