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A bill to legalize medical aid in dying died in the Arizona House of Representatives earlier this year. But Compassion and Choices Arizona is not going to give up.

“We will give it another shot next year,” the organization’s representative for Northern Arizona Leesa Stevens said at a meeting hosted by the League of Women Voters on Monday, March 20. Compassion and Choices is a national organization that has been dedicated to end-of-life care and choices for the past 30 years.

Medical aid in dying is legal in Montana, Washington, Oregon, Vermont, California and Colorado, as well as in the District of Columbia. Oregon was the first to enact a Death with Dignity Act in 1997.

Stevens said that active end-of-life support has been gaining acceptance internationally, with Canada and Germany being the most recent countries to legalize medical aid in dying. As of November 2015, 56 percent of Arizonans would also support legalization.

Stevens stressed the importance of getting young people involved in the issue, not only as voters, but also in regard to their own or their parents’ and grandparents’ future.

In a study conducted in Oregon, 91.5 percent of surveyed patients said they considered the option of medical aid in dying due to the loss of autonomy through their terminal illness. 79.3 percent indicated the reason to be a loss of dignity, 23.5 percent wanted to end pain, and 2.7 percent chose the option due to the financial burden of their illness. Stevens stressed that access to the medication is often merely a comforting factor and that many never administer the drug.

Stevens outlined three possible paths to enacting medical aid in dying. First, one could challenge existing prohibitions, but this would require a physician with a terminally ill plaintiff and a law firm willing to push the case. At the moment, there is nothing going on in this direction.

The second option would be enactment through legislation. Stevens expects this route to see much opposition, especially from religious groups. Since 2003, there have been multiple attempts to push bills that would legalize medical aid in dying, but so far all have been defeated.

The third way would be a voter ballot initiative. The downside to this method is that it is expensive, time-consuming and the initiative is not guaranteed to pass. Washington, Colorado and Oregon were able to legalize medical aid in dying through such a ballot initiative. Michigan rejected it.

Even though the path to legalization looks rather rough at the moment, Stevens said she is dedicated to relentlessly working on getting the word out to local communities. She would like to see the formation of new action teams, especially in Prescott and Flagstaff, as well as more people joining in the effort as volunteers. “We can’t do it alone, we need everybody’s help,” she said. Public presentations and info tables at events will also be components of the organization’s outreach efforts. Stevens hopes to partner with the Mary D. Fisher Theatre for topical films and discussions.

On the political side, Compassion and Choices Arizona will strive to introduce another bill next year. Until then, it would like to encourage cities and towns across Arizona to pass documents in support of the legislation. So far, Tucson, Oro Valley and Bisbee have issued such documents, and Stevens said she hopes that cities in Northern Arizona will
soon follow.

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