By Chris Haring
A proposal introduced by Nashville Democrat Bob Freeman would expand end-of-life options for state residents who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
In a groundbreaking move, Tennessee Representative Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) recently filed a bill in the state’s General Assembly that aims to give Tennesseans the right to die with dignity.
Medical aid in dying continues to expand nationwide
As Erin McCullough wrote for Nashville’s WKRN, the legislation is part of a broader national trend in 2024: Tennessee is one of 14 states that are considering assisted-dying bills, either newly-drafted or carrying over from the 2023 session.
Rep. Freeman’s bill, HB1710 – the state’s first attempt at legalizing assisted death since a 2017 version failed to advance – proposes a legal process for qualified individuals suffering from terminal diseases who wish to exercise their right to choose when and how they die.
The provisions within the bill are similar to those passed in several other states (and Washington, D.C.), which all require a patient to meet a set of stringent conditions before being approved for life-ending medication.
Stories from the aid-in-dying movement resonate with lawmakers
The representative said he was inspired by hearing stories from close friends about their ailing family members who, without expanded end-of-life options that include medical aid in dying, “just had to live in pain for the last six months of their life.”
Ultimately, Freeman is optimistic but realistic about the bill’s chances of advancing during the 2024 session. He said his goal is “to open it up to a debate” and determine if the issues of dignity and autonomy at the end of life will resonate with his constituents.
(If the recent ongoing momentum throughout the country is any indication, Tennesseeans will agree!)
For more information on how to get involved in efforts to bring a Death with Dignity law to Tennessee, please visit the state page on our website.
Read the full article below:
‘Right to die’ bill filed in Tennessee general assembly
By: Erin McCullough
Published: Jan 12, 2024
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — One Tennessee lawmaker wants to give Tennesseans the “right to die.”
Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) filed a bill in the General Assembly this month that would create a process for those suffering terminal diseases to die in a “humane and dignified manner.”
HB1710 would allow for qualified patients to request a prescription of medication that would end their lives if certain conditions are met.
Specifically, the bill states “[a]n adult who is capable, is a resident of this state, and has been determined by an attending physician and a consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal disease, and who has voluntarily expressed the wish to die, may make a written request for medication for the purpose of ending the adult’s life in a humane and dignified manner in accordance with this part.”
According to Freeman, the bill was inspired by friends’ struggles with aging family members’ end of life.
“Recently I’ve had some close friends go through really horrible end-of-life situations for their family members that wanted the pain to be over, and it’s not an option, They just had to live in pain for the last six months of their life,” he told News 2.
According to the bill, the disease must be one that is incurable, irreversible and would likely result in death within six months; there must also be two witnesses to the request, one of which cannot be a relative, the attending physician, or anyone who would have a vested interest in the patient’s estate.
In order to receive the prescription, the bill states they must make an initial oral request to their attending physician, followed by a written request. They must then make a second oral request within 15 days of the initial oral request. They would also retain the right to rescind the request under the terms of the bill.
There are around a dozen states that honor the right to die, including Oregon, Maine, Montana and Washington, D.C. Tennessee does not currently recognize the right to die, only offering hospice or palliative care for those at the end of life.
In those instances, Freeman said, the care is more about treating the pain to the best of the ability.
“When you talk about hospice, they talk about quality of life, and quality of life at the end of life should be honored as well,” he said. “When you enter into hospice, and you know the end is near—it’s not medically treatable—and you’re just treating the pain until the person dies naturally, I think that people should have the choice to choose how they want to die.”
Freeman also shared he had an acquaintance choose to take their own life instead of endure long-term pain management after a terminal diagnosis, which was another inspiration for the bill.
“They should have been able to go into a facility, speak to a medical professional, get the counseling needed and go through that medically, and that decision’s not available for Tennesseans today,” he said.
Freeman said he’s spoken with multiple hospice facilities, and they agree their role is more about quality of life, and part of quality of life is dignity in death.
“There’s a false belief that there’s a killer dose of morphine at the end of someone’s life that they can give, and the reality is that’s not the case. People are in so much pain that they have to get massive doses of morphine at the end of their life to continue to treat the pain,” Freeman said. “When we know somebody’s not going to get better and they’re not going to recover, we should have an opportunity for that person, if they’re in the right mind, to be able to make that decision and act on that decision.”
Some other protections included in Freeman’s bill include prohibitions on requests from family members—only the patient can make the request; not family—required consultation with physicians, witnesses, and the right to rescind, all of which he said he saw in other state’s bills.
“More than anything I just want to open it up to a debate. Let’s see if this is something that people really want,” he said. “Let them reach out to their representatives and, if so, let’s move this forward.”
Tennessee should “allow people dignity in death,” he added.
“Let them choose, if they have a terminal disease, how they want to end their life,” Freeman said.
According to Death With Dignity, there are 14 different states considering right to die bills in 2024, including Tennessee.
Hundreds of bills will be up for debate during the 113th General Assembly. Tennessee lawmakers shared their thoughts on some of the major issues up for discussion at this year’s legislative session.
You can also find daily coverage from the session here.