Kansas House Considers Resolution Against Assisted Suicide

Mar 6, 2017

Kansas legislators heard testimony against physician-assisted suicide Monday from a former state representative.

“This is a direction we don’t want to go,” said Steve Brunk, a Republican who represented a Wichita-area district for 12 years. “We value life, and we don’t want to take the step of looking down this corridor where we negate the value of life and we assist people in dying.”

It’s already a felony for physicians to help patients end their lives in Kansas.

But Brunk, who became a lobbyist for the Family Policy Alliance in 2016, said the Legislature should “make a statement” against so-called “death with dignity” laws recently passed in Colorado and California that allow physician-assisted suicide for patients who have no more than six months to live.

Five states plus Washington, D.C., have such laws, and Montana allows assisted suicide under a court ruling.

Similar bills have been introduced in Kansas in the last three years but have yet to get a hearing.

The resolution the Kansas House Health and Human Services Committee is considering would strongly repudiate such laws, saying they lead to coerced suicide and euthanasia. It’s an almost word-for-word copy of 2013 model legislation from Americans United for Life, a national nonprofit that also promotes anti-abortion bills.

“The Kansas bill does reflect AUL’s model language, which is made available to legislators across the country,” Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for the organization, said via email. “To the best of our knowledge, Kansas is the first state to use the language.”

Download the Americans United for Life model legislation and policy guide.

The resolution promotes palliative care as the preferred alternative to assisted suicide, saying it “is nearly always successful in relieving pain and allowing a person to die naturally, comfortably and in a dignified manner.”

Brunk called the resolution “a companion piece” to a palliative care bill the committee passed last month.

A lobbyist for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which requested the palliative care measure, said the organization has no connection to the assisted suicide resolution.

The University of Kansas Hospital’s palliative care division did not weigh in on the assisted suicide resolution.

Several legislators with medical backgrounds said they were concerned about the resolution possibly affecting decisions about removing life support from patients with little to no brain function.

Rep. Greg Lakin, a Republican from Wichita, said he didn’t necessarily disagree with the intent of the resolution. But as a physician who worked in hospice care for 15 years, Lakin said he didn’t think the resolution was necessary. He also said he has concerns about some of its language.

“[There’s] tons of conclusions in here that, I doubt they are factual,” Lakin said.

Brunk said the intent was not to affect life support decisions and he would work with committee members on specific wording.

If the Legislature approves the resolution, copies of it will be sent to the governor, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Medical Society, an advocacy group for the state’s doctors.

Andy Marso is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach him on Twitter @andymarso.