The controversial death with dignity bill will reach the Senate floor in an unlikely manner.
On Tuesday the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare tacked it on as a last-minute amendment to a bill prohibiting minors from using tanning beds.
The move took opponents of the bill, including Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, by surprise.
Campbell, who is standing in on the committee in place of Sen. Sally Fox, was out of the room when Sen. Hinda Miller introduced the amendment. He heard about the bill when he was sitting in another committee and rushed back.
The bill passed 3-2, with dissent from Campbell and Sen. Kevin Mullin. Voting for the bill were Miller, and Sens. Anthony Pollina and Claire Ayer.
Miller, who is not running for re-election, has supported the death with dignity bill for a decade.
“Those of us who have been hanging on for 10 years want it to get to the floor,” Miller said.
Now that the bill is out of committee, it will reach the Senate floor for a vote. Whether Senate President Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and the secretary of the Senate will allow debate is another question. Critics of the bill likely will say it is not germane, or relevant, to the tanning bed bill.
Miller concedes there will be plenty of debate on the floor even if it is deemed germane.
“This is not a straight line,” Miller said. “There’s going to be lot of tributaries, and a lot of discussion. We’re not projecting what’s going to happen. We just want to get it there, and we found a way to get it there.”
Ayer, who chairs Senate Health and Welfare, said “Our thinking was that it should come up for a vote. I’d like to get it out there and see what happens.”
The Senate Committee on Judiciary took testimony on the bill this year but ultimately did not take any action.
If Scott and Senate Secretary John Bloomer deem the amendment is not germane, a vote by three-quarters of the senators could override that decision and allow a vote.
Ayer said the connection between the two bills is the health risks associated with tanning beds.
“Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer in young people,” she said. “There’s a nexus between cancer and death and death with dignity.”
Mullin was not pleased with the way the bill was slipped onto a less controversial piece of legislation.
“This isn’t way things happen in this building, to throw something like that on a bill that’s pretty innocuous in and of itself,” Mullin said.
He said he likely would have voted against the death with dignity bill because of his concerns that disabled or other vulnerable people could be coerced into using the law to end their lives.
He said the main issue, however, was the end run around the traditional legislative process.
“There was absolutely zero testimony on it whatsoever,” he said. “The chair never asked if we wanted to hear from witnesses, and a vote was called.”
Campbell said he was surprised when he heard a vote on the bill was being taken when he was out of the room.
“To say I was surprised was an understatement,” he said.
Campbell said he did not think the bill has enough support in the Senate to pass even if it is deemed germane. He said if it dies in the Senate, it will face an even steeper climb next year.
The bill has been proposed for years in the Legislature. It is modeled after an Oregon law that allows terminally ill patients to obtain a lethal dose of drugs from a physician. The bill requires patients to be mentally sound and to visit with multiple physicians, one of whom is a specialist in hospice or palliative care, Miller said.
Proponents of the bill say it is a compassionate measure that focuses on patient choice and allows people to make decisions for themselves at the end of life. Opponents claim it would increase the rate of suicide in the state and lead to abuses.