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Nevada governor breaks trend, vetoes assisted-suicide bill


CARSON CITY, Nev. (BP) – The assisted-suicide movement finally met a governor who refused to allow his state to condone the lethal practice.

Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed a bill to legalize assisted suicide June 5 and became reportedly the first state chief executive to block enactment of such a measure. Ten states and the District of Columbia permit assisted suicide. Six states enacted it by legislation, four by voter referendum and one by court ruling.

Lombardo’s veto came 10 days after leaders of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the Nevada Baptist Convention (NBC) joined other national and state assisted-suicide opponents in a letter urging him not to sign the bill.

Assisted suicide involves the prescription by a medical professional of a drug a patient administers to take his or her own life. The movement has expanded since Oregon became the first state to legalize the practice in 1997. Assisted suicide is also in effect in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has expressed opposition to assisted suicide in annual resolutions dating back more than 25 years. Messengers to the 2018 SBC meeting approved a resolution that affirmed “the full dignity of every human being, whether or not any political, legal, or medical authority considers a human being possessive of ‘viable’ life regardless of cognitive or physical disability, and denounce[d] every act that would wrongly limit the life of any human at any stage or state of life.”

Hannah Daniel, the ERLC’s policy manager, told Baptist Press, “We believe all people are made in the image of God and possess immeasurable worth and value. Life is precious from the earliest moment of conception to natural death. Those who are struggling physically, mentally or emotionally should be met with the highest quality of care and compassion, not given assistance to end their life.”

The legislation “would have established Nevada as a destination for assisted suicide, and we joined arms with Nevada Baptists in urging Governor Lombardo to veto it,” she said in written comments.

The legislation would have allowed a doctor or advanced practice registered nurse to prescribe a lethal dose of a drug for an adult patient. The proposal gained narrow passage in both houses, 23-19 in the Assembly and 11-10 in the Senate. The majorities were far short of the two-thirds vote required to overturn a veto.

In a written veto message, Lombardo, a Republican, said the bill was unnecessary because of “expansions in palliative care services and continued improvements in advanced pain management.”

“Given recent progress in science and medicine and the fact that only a small number of states and jurisdictions allow for similar end-of-life protocols, I am not comfortable supporting this bill,” he said.

Damian Cirincione, NBC executive director-treasurer, and ERLC President Brent Leatherwood joined 12 others in a May 26 letter requesting a veto from Lombardo.

In their letter, they cited the following among the reasons for their request of a veto:

  • The “woefully insufficient protections for the vulnerable,” including the failure to require an “in-person evaluation,” the authority of “less-qualified medical professionals” to prescribe lethal drugs and the ability of non-terminal patients to request such prescriptions.
  • The opposition to the legislation by all major disability organizations.
  • The failure to protect the conscience rights of health-care professionals and institutions that object to involvement in assisted suicide.
  • The lack of a residency requirement, enabling Nevada to become a “suicide tourism destination.”

“While alleviating the pain of patients is the overriding emphasis of proponents of this law, reports from Oregon and other states where assisted suicide is legal indicate that the primary reasons for requesting lethal drugs are social and disability related – not pain or fear of pain,” the letter said.

In addition to Cirincione and Leatherwood, other signers of the letter included Denise Harle, Alliance Defending Freedom; Jennifer Popik, National Right to Life; Catherine Glenn Foster, Americans United for Life; Matt Valliere, Patients’ Rights Action Fund; Karen England, Nevada Family Alliance; Sharon Quick, Physicians for Compassionate Care; and Craig Treptow, Catholic Medical Association.

Assisted-suicide advocates criticized Lombardo’s veto, which came despite a public-opinion survey that showed more than 80 percent of Nevada voters supported the proposal.

“His decision to veto this bill effectively puts him in the exam room with terminally ill patients, interfering with their decisions about end-of-life care and preventing them from dying on their terms when their suffering is intolerable,” said Sara Manns, state campaign director for Compassion & Choices Action Network, in a written statement.