INDIANAPOLIS -- Corey Polen doesn't want his wife and three children to watch him suffer and die. He has ALS, a terminal, neurological disease with no cure, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
"You have ups and downs throughout the day, but you just come to realize that you only have so many days left, and you want to live each day to its fullest. So, you're really just looking out one day at a time," said Polen.
Polen, of Brownsburg, spoke Thursday in support of a new "death with dignity" bill proposed by Ind. Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington). The bill would enable people with terminal illnesses, like Polen, to request medication that would end their lives peacefully.
"Just knowing that this option is available takes an immeasurable weight off the shoulders of patients like me," Polen said. "To know I could have some control in the amount of torture I and my family endure would be priceless."
Pierce's bill, HB 1157, is similar to one he authored a year ago about "death with dignity." Last year's bill died in a committee.
There are many checks to the process if the bill becomes law. Anybody wanting the medication to die would have to file a written request and have two disinterested (not family members) witnesses attest to the fact that they aren't being coerced into the decision. The attending physician would have to certify that the patient does have a terminal illness and that their request was made voluntarily and with competence.
The physician would also be required to provide alternatives to the patient, such as pain management or hospice care. The physician also has the option of referring the patient to counseling.
Then, the patient must wait a 15-day period and fill out another written request. A second physician must also be consulted. The medication would also have to be self-administered.
According to deathwithdignity.org, five states -- California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington -- and Washington, D.C. have a law allowing a similar process for people with terminal diseases.
Opponents to physician-assisted suicide believe the laws prohibiting it are there to protect people against doctors or others wanting to do harm. The Indiana State Medical Association is against the proposal. In a statement, Executive Director Micah Clark wrote:
"Sending a message to Hoosiers that suicide is a good alternative to life, even the end of life, carries with it some dangerous ramifications and consequences that can hurt those Hoosier families left behind. Doctors exist to prolong life, not to end it."
Some people also oppose assisted suicide on religious grounds, saying it goes against God's will.
Pierce is realistic about the bill's chances this legislative session, saying it may not happen in such a short, 10-week session. But he's confident it can happen soon if enough people make an effort to tell their lawmakers about it.
But Polen is hoping Indiana becomes like those five other states and enacts a "death with dignity" law.
"The state imposes compassionate death penalties for the worst of the worst criminals -- murderers, cop-killers, and terrorists," he said. "Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people and injured over 600 in the Oklahoma City bombing, was put to death compassionately in this state. Why did he get to die compassionately, yet Indiana wants me to have a tortuous death in front of my children and my sweetheart?"
California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C. have "death with dignity" laws on the books.
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