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Nevada took a major step toward becoming the next US state to legalise assisted dying, with the state Senate voting 11-10 on Wednesday to advance a bill that would allow terminally ill residents to take medication designed to end their life.
Every Republican in the chamber voted against the bill, as did two Democrats. The bill, SB 239, now heads to the Democratic-controlled state assembly. The state’s Republican governor, Joe Lombardo, has not yet indicated if he plans to sign or veto the legislation should it reach his desk in the coming weeks.
If Mr Lombardo does sign the law, it would make Nevada the ninth state in the country to legalise medically-assisted suicide. Under the terms of the legislation, licensed medical practitioners could prescribe lethal drugs to willing Nevada residents 18 years of age and older with less than six months to live.
Oregon was the first state to legalise the practice after voters narrowly passed the Death With Dignity Act in 1994, and since then, Washington, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, DC, New Jersey, Maine, and Vermont have all followed suit. Medically assisted suicide is also legal in Montana under a court order.
Assisted dying is also legal in several European countries, including the Netherlands and Spain, as well as Canada.
SB 239 lays out a number of the arguments that support the practice assisted dying, including that “mentally capable adult patient should have the right to self-determination concerning his or her health care decisions.”
The bill also notes that patients who experiencing terminal or otherwise life-altering illnesses may experience excruciating mental and physical pain that does not allow them to live fulfilling lives. Those illnesses may drain families’ financial resources in a country that lacks a comprehensive safety net for senior and end-of-life care.
Opponents of assisted dying argue that the law can be used to coerce people into choosing to die and violates medical practitioners’ oaths to their patients. Some people are also opposed for religious reasons.
The states that have passed assisted sucide laws all now have solid Democratic majorities, which Nevada, a perennial swing state that elected Mr Lombardo in November while sending Democratic Sen Catherine Cortez-Masto back to Washington, does not.