A petition is being circulated in the Lawrence area that, if presented to state lawmakers as expected, will result in more-than-a-little uncomfortable conversations taking place inside the Statehouse and elsewhere.

The Kaw Valley Older Women’s League will ask legislators to consider the possibility of legalizing physician-assisted death in Kansas. While the prospects of passage are slim to none given the ultra-conservative political climate in Topeka, we have to compliment the group’s members for even attempting to begin such a public discourse. Deciding one’s own end-of-life plan should be guided by the individual, not dictated by the state.

Irony will not dissuade either the governor or the Legislature from fighting any attempt to codify physician-assisted death. Exceptions can and will be made to halting government’s encroachment in our lives, particularly when there is a moral component involved. Laws are enacted on a regular basis that allow state intrusion into extremely personal decisions, with religious beliefs providing justification.

But when a Kansas resident faces imminent death, should somebody else’s differing religious beliefs rightfully limit the options of the terminally ill? We don’t believe so.

Currently, end-of-life care in Kansas can be treated in one of two manners. The first is to preserve life at all cost. The second is to let the dying process run its course, attempting to maintain as much quality of life as possible without doing anything to speed up or slow down the inevitable. Through living wills and do-not-resuscitate orders, individuals are free to choose either. The state cannot compel health-care professionals to perform heroic measures if the person has decided otherwise.

The Kaw Valley Older Women’s League believes a third option should be allowed in Kansas. In Oregon, Washington and Montana, individuals can decide to pursue death with the help of medical personnel. The league is attempting to reframe Kansas law to allow the same here.

“I think people should have the option to decide when they are going to die,” Helen Gilles, 89, a retired Lawrence pediatrician and member of the Kaw Valley Older Women’s League, said. “When you have lived as long as I have, you realize there are people who want to die, and I think they should be allowed to.”

This state, and nation, could do well to expand on the concept of dying with dignity. Physician-assisted death would not be for everyone, nor should it be. But for those who wanted to make one of life’s most difficult decisions for themselves, and by themselves, we do not agree the state has an over-riding interest.

We wish the group well with its pursuit.

— The Hays Daily News