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Utah lawmaker renews push for aid-in-dying bill

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City resident Carrie Snyder spent about two years with Stage 4 lung cancer before recently finding out that the disease had spread to her brain and is incurable. Now the 52-year-old mother of four is pushing for Utah to allow her to end her life on her own terms.

"If you can picture and imagine something beautiful at the end, instead of something horrific and inhumane at the end, that's why I'm fighting for this," she said.

For the third year in a row, Democratic Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck is gearing up to introduce a bill that would allow terminally-ill adults who are expected to live six months or less to choose to end their lives. But in the highly conservative state where her last two attempts have not made it far in the Legislature, she is gearing up for another challenging fight.

"This is a very sensitive issue," Chavez-Houck said. "It's going to take a lot of one-on-one time I believe with colleagues to address their concerns."

The proposal will likely be similar to the one she introduced during the 2016 session, and include such safeguards as requiring that the patient is mentally competent, and that two physicians sign off on the prognosis.

Chavez-Houck said she is open to making tweaks based on discussions she has with lawmakers this summer. She plans to discuss the proposal during committee meetings coming up over the next few weeks.

When asked to comment, the governor's office said in a statement that Republican Gov. Gary Herbert is concerned that a right-to-die bill could be "a right to suicide" and life needs to be respected and revered.

Chavez-Houck said she began working on introducing the legislation after Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill 29-year-old Oregon woman, generated a national debate on the issue when she ended her life about two years ago.

Dan Diaz, Maynard's husband, has lobbied lawmakers across the country since her death in 2014. He plans to visit Utah this week to meet with legislators to give them a firsthand account of why the law is important.

"My wife Brittany wanted to live; the brain tumor was killing her and of that she had no control," he said. "The one thing that Brittany could control is simply the manner to which her last few days would play out. And that's what this bill affords."

If the legislation passes, Utah would join a handful of other states that have passed similar pieces of legislation, including Oregon, which has had a law for over a decade.

The Mormon church, of which more than half of Utah residents are members, said in a statement that it does not support helping someone with a terminal illness end their life, saying that is a "violation of the commandments of God."

The proposal in Utah would require that the patient be counseled on other options and available treatments. If a doctor suspects the patient is suffering from depression or a psychological disorder that is impairing their judgment, the person would need to undergo a psychological evaluation.

If someone meets all the requirements, a doctor would prescribe a fatal medication that the patient would take at his or her discretion.

Chavez-Houck said some Utah residents who are terminally ill have told her that they simply want the comfort of having the prescription and knowing they have the option to end their life.

"That's kind of like saying, 'a suicidal person who has a gun in the house feels better,'" said Jean Hill, with the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, which opposes the legislation.

She said there are no safeguards that the lawmaker could add to the legislation that would lead to the diocese's support. But if the proposal were to pass, Hill would want it to require that all patients get psychiatric care and be supervised by a medical professional when they take the life-ending drugs.