End of life bill heard; police chase debate continues

Sen. Ernie Chambers, left, presents his end-of-life bill, as opponent John Wayne Cockfield, right, looks on (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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February 24, 2016 - 6:10pm

Terminally ill people could get drugs to end their life from a doctor under a proposal heard in the Nebraska Legislature. And debate continued on when cities and counties should be held liable for injuries in chases by law enforcement.

Sen. Ernie Chambers is calling his proposal to help terminally ill people end their lives the “Patient Choice at End of Life Act.”

“The main point is to let someone make this most important decision they will ever make, not only in the shadow of death but in the clutches of death, determine how to face that death in a way that they feel is humane, dignified and peaceful,” Chambers told NET News before Wednesday afternoon’s public hearing before the Judiciary Committee.

On hand to oppose Chambers bill on behalf of Nebraska Right to Life was John Wayne Cockfield. Cockfield, a retired Marine, lost his legs in the Vietnam War. In an interview before the hearing, he said Chambers bill sounds like it gives terminally ill patients a choice. However, he added, pointing to a nondisabled reporter, “Here’s the problem: if a person like you was depressed and you went to a doctor and requested suicide, you would get suicide assistance counseling. But because of my underlying medical conditions, my disability, the doctor would overlook my depression and prescribe me suicide pills because I’m a devalued, disabled person.”

Chambers said people who don’t want to use the law he is proposing don’t have to. And he said there are other safeguards, including requirements placed on the person’s doctor and mental health specialist. “These doctors also have to make a finding that the individual is not suffering from a psychiatric, psychological problem or depression that will impair the decision making function. So there are all kind of safeguards, and the physicians will follow these requirements; otherwise liability attaches to them,” he said.

The committee took no immediate action. Chambers has named the bill, LB1056, his priority bill, meaning there’s a good chance it would be debated this year if it gets out of committee.

In legislative debate Wednesday, senators continued to struggle with the question of who is an “innocent third party” entitled to coverage if they are injured in a police chase. Current Nebraska law says a passenger in a car which is being chased is automatically covered unless, courts have ruled, they encourage the driver to flee. Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse wants to change that to rule out automatic coverage if, for example, that passenger is wanted for a felony.

The proposal reflects a case decided by the Nebraska Supreme Court in 2012, in which a man later found in possession of methamphetamine was crippled in a police chase. Platte County’s insurer wound up paying out $1 million.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln opposed Watermeier’s bill. “Guess what? We’re going to pay for them (crash victims) one way or another. And this seeming attempt to grant immunity towards high speed chases is really not a good policy. It’s not what we should be doing as a state,”  she said.

In a brief interview, Watermeier acknowledged that while he didn’t know the details of the Platte County case, if the man who was injured was destitute, taxpayers probably would have wound up paying for his care anyway. “If they were probably of low income and behind (on their bills), they probably would have went straight to Medicaid,” he said.

Medicaid payments to health care providers are a little over 50 percent from federal funds and a little under 50 percent from the state. By contrast, Watermeier said, the $1 million paid out for the man injured in the Platte County chase probably went two-thirds for medical care, and one-third for lawyers.

The Legislature adjourned for the day before reaching a second-round vote on Watermeier’s bill. That vote is expected Thursday.









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