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Las Vegas conference examines the impact of 'right to die' laws

A closeup of two people clasping hands. You see the outstretched arms of on person enveloping the clasped hands of another person.
Matheus Ferrero
A palliative care doctor reassures a patient that she will do all she can to ease is pain and improve his comfort.

A University of Nevada Las Vegas conference aims to discuss "lessons learned" from U.S. states and other countries that allow medical aid in dying.

Dr. David Orentlicher is head of the UNLV Health Law Program, which held the conference on Feb. 1 and 2. He said so-called "right to die" laws in the United States have very strict requirements — for example, a patient must have a six-month life expectancy and be able to self-administer the medication.

Only 10 states and the District of Columbia allow for medical aid in dying. In the Mountain West, Colorado, Montana, and New Mexico legalize it, with varying standards.

As a Nevada legislator, Orentlicher was one of the co-sponsors of the “Death with Dignity” bill, SB 239, that was vetoed by Gov. Joe Lombardo in June 2023.

He said the option of having a physician present could improve state laws.

“So if a physician is there, they can reassess the patient and they could also make sure it's done properly,” explained Orentlicher.

He also said laws in the United States are stricter than those in other countries. So fewer people here meet the requirements or medical aid in dying — for example, people with decades-long, deep depression.

“In the United States, you would not be a candidate for aid in dying, cause you don’t have a life expectancy of less than six months, but in Belgium or Netherlands, you might be able to choose aid in dying,” Orentlicher said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Yvette Fernandez is the regional reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau. She joined Nevada Public Radio in September 2021.

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