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Utah lawmakers debate ‘right to die’ legislation

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Posted at 9:46 PM, Mar 05, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-05 23:46:11-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- In 2014, Brittany Maynard, 29, became a household name after she decided to end her battle with brain cancer under Oregon’s right to die law. In 2015, her story prompted a proposal at the Utah legislature.

“In a state that so fiercely values self-determination, why do we not have this act in Utah?” asked Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City.

Under HB391, Chavez-Houck wants to offer patients, such as Maynard, a chance to choose how they die in Utah. The bill would allow a terminally ill person, who has six months to live, the ability to seek a prescription from a physician in order to take his or her own life.

“This is a heavy lift,” said Chavez-Houck, “This is a very deep and challenging discussion.”

As part of her presentation, Chavez-Houck invited a Utah family to address members of the House Health and Human Services Committee.

“On Valentines Day, our 21-year-old son Eric passed away, and it was not peaceful or natural,” said Melissa Oligario.

After battling kidney failure for years, Oligario’s son opted to forgo further treatment and enter hospice care at home.

“The last 24 hours were hell,” Oligario said. “Please allow others the freedom that is too late for Eric to have.”

The committee unanimously voted to not take any action on the proposal this session. They will instead recommend it be studied further.

“This is a big deal. This is not a small concept or bill that we can just discuss today and pass out committee and debate on the floor of the House,” said Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan.

Chavez-Houck said she was not expecting the bill to move forward so quickly. She hoped the proposal would instead begin a conversation on a complex and controversial topic.

“It is a good start," she said. "This will be a journey, as is the journey that many people face when they’re looking at the end of their lives and they’re facing a grave terminal illness. It is a journey.”