"Death with Dignity" bill gives terminally ill patients option to end own life

Brownsburg father Corey Polen was diagnosed with ALS two years ago. He wants to have the option to die on his own terms. (Submitted photo)
Ending On Their Terms
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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - A Bloomington state lawmaker has filed a bill to give Indiana a so-called "death with dignity" law for people with terminal illnesses.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington), would allow people with a terminal illness to receive a medication they take themselves to die. Pierce is not sure the legislation can pass in this short session, but he wants to start the conversation.

The lawmaker wants to give Hoosiers suffering at the end of their lives the option to end their lives. The person must be diagnosed with a terminal illness and given six months or less to live.

"Clearly, the choice is put in the hands of the patient. There are many, many safeguards to ensure the patient has carefully thought through the ramifications of the decision they're making and you have a consulting physician make sure that the person is making the decision based on their best judgement," Pierce said.

Those safeguards include a 15-day waiting period and confirmation from two doctors.

"What we find when we listen to people with terminal illnesses is that they yearn to live as long and as fully as they can for as long as the disease allows them a reasonable quality of life. What they don't want is a prolonged and painful dying process," said Bev Hmurovic, president of Compassion & Choices of Indiana.

That's why 42-year-old Corey Polen from Brownsburg came to the statehouse Thursday. The husband and father of three suffers from the terminal, progressive neurological disease ALS.

"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?" Polen said. "Yet Indiana wants me to have a tortuous death in front of my children and my sweetheart. I don't understand."

So far, ALS has only attacked Polen from the knees down. He is still able to walk with a cane and work as an actuary at his downtown office.

"I am a little weaker than yesterday and a little weaker than the day before. But I'm stronger than I'll be tomorrow. So just trying to enjoy each day and hopefully it will stay slow," Polen said.

Corey has lived with the diagnosis for almost two years. He knows ALS is terminal and progressive in paralyzing the neurological system. He came to the statehouse to voice his support for Pierce's legislation.

"Choosing how you live as well as how you might eventually succumb and die is a choice of liberty," he said. "The statehouse right now is focused on giving people the seventh day of alcohol, right? And I've heard lots of talk about that being liberty. Well, c'mon. People have alcohol. This is really a choice for liberty for the citizens of Indiana."

He wonders about the day when each breath might be a painful struggle.

"I don't know when I hit that road what type of choices I make. If this option is available to me, it would at least be a relief off my shoulders of knowing that I have this option should it ever come to that need, that I don't like being tortured anymore," Polen said.

The proposed legislation is based on a law passed 20 years ago in Oregon. Four other states have passed similar laws.