Indiana Death with Dignity bill: ‘This is not a Dr. Kevorkian situation’

Corey Polen, 42, of Brownsburg, said Jan. 4, 2018, that he'd like the option of a "death with dignity" law in Indiana for himself and his family. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — If you had a terminal illness, would you choose to end your life on your own terms?

It’s not an easy thing to talk about, but one state lawmaker wants the option on the table for Hoosiers.

A handful of states including California, Vermont and Oregon have Death With Dignity laws that allow physician-assisted suicides. Oregon’s law has been on the books since 1997.

State Rep. Matt Pierce, a Republican from Bloomington, said he wants Hoosiers to be able to choose to die while they still have their dignity and their wits about them.

A Brownsburg resident, 42-year old Corey Polen, said he lives his life one day at a time. Diagnosed in March 2016, he lives with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

Polen said, “Essentially, it’s like your spinal cord (be)coming disconnected from your brain.”

“Definitely some rough moments, but each day is a new day. You try to enjoy each day you have with your family and friends.”

He said there’s no cure and knows it’s terminal. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people living with Lou Gehrig’s disease eventually lose the ability to speak, eat, move or even breathe. That’s why Polen said he’d like the option of a “death with dignity” law for himself and his family.

The law, he said, would “give me the comfort to know that they might not see me in very bad situations.”

That’s part of the reason why Rep. Pierce on Thursday announced his Death With Dignity bill for people with six months to live.

Pierce said that the measure would allow people with six months to live to “have a medication prescribed that will allow them to die with dignity and humanity by self-administering the medication as opposed to having to suffer through the pain and agony of a slow and prolonged death.”

Pierce said, under his bill, there are a host of safeguards. For example, the patient’s written request would need to be witnessed by two people who could verify mental competence. There would be a 15-day waiting period, doctors involved, and the offering of other options to name a few.

Referring to the late American pathologist  Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who advocated for physician-assisted suicide, Pierce said, “This is not a Dr. Kevorkian situation where someone is hooking up a machine to people. This is an individual in the calm of their own home, surrounded by their family members after they’ve made the decision.”

Christie Soaper, who said she too is terminally ill, said that calm is what she wants.

Soaper said, ” I take 18 medications a day. If I wanted to make a cocktail, I could’ve done it a long time ago. That’s not what I want. I want the dignity behind that.”

Considering the Republican majority in the Indiana Senate, Pierce said it may take a couple sessions for the bill to get the serious consideration it deserves. He said he wants to get the conversation started and hopes this bill will do that.