Ajello introduces Lila Sapinsley Compassionate Care Act
STATE HOUSE – Rep. Edith H. Ajello has introduced legislation aimed at allowing terminally ill Rhode Islanders to end their suffering on their own terms.
The Lila Manfield Sapinsley Compassionate Care Act would guarantee a terminal patient’s right to choose to hasten the end of their lives under certain conditions.
“Terminally ill patients should not be forced to remain in agony without hope of reprieve if they wish otherwise. We should trust patients to know when they have suffered enough, and respect their wishes. The Lila Sapinsley Act is carefully written to provide many layers of protection, and I am confident that Rhode Island can safely join the ranks of states that allow compassion for people suffering at the end of their lives,” said Representative Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence).
The legislation, which Representative Ajello has introduced since 2015, is named for the former Rhode Island senator Lila Sapinsley, a political mainstay in Rhode Island. Active since the 1960s, she was the first female Senate minority leader. After leaving the Senate, she remained active and was well known for her work on health care access, protecting civil liberties, promoting open government and engaging young students. Before her death at age 92 in 2014, she had been working to develop and promote this legislation.
The bill (2023-H 5210) would establish a system through which terminally ill adult patients could request from their physician a prescription for medication to be self-administered to hasten the patient’s death. Legal compliance would require that the patient make two documented requests to their physician, at least 15 days apart, including a written request signed in the presence of two witnesses. The patient must be informed that they can rescind their request at any time.
The process spells out numerous conditions that must be met, including that the patient be informed of their prognosis, treatment options, and all feasible end-of-life services including palliative care, comfort care, hospice care and pain control. The patient must be referred to another physician for second opinions. Additionally, the bill requires verification that the patient does not have impaired judgment.
Under the proposed legislation, no doctor, nurse or other person would be subject to any criminal or civil penalty for providing the prescription.
No doctor, nurse or other person would be legally required to prescribe a lethal dose of medication for a patient. Health care facilities would be allowed to prohibit physicians from writing prescriptions for lethal doses of medication for patients who are residents of the facility.
Ten states, including Maine and Vermont, and the District of Columbia have similar laws allowing medical aid while dying.