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STATE OF THE STATE (copy)

Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester and Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, listens as Gov. Scott Walker delivers the State of the State address Tuesday. To his left is state Senate President Roger Roth, R-Appleton.

A Democratic proposal to allow people in Wisconsin with terminal illnesses to end their lives with the help of a physician faces opposition from the Assembly speaker.

The bill, introduced Wednesday by Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, and Reps. Sondy Pope, D-Cross Plains, and Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, would allow someone with a terminal illness to end his or her life provided the person is a Wisconsin resident, is at least 18 years old and is of sound mind and not incapacitated. An attending physician must approve the decision before medication is administered. 

"Don’t we all deserve to have a last resort when the alternative is a slow and painful death? Let’s not require brave people to endure suffering beyond their capacity," Hesselbein said in a statement. "Let us respect our loved ones enough to put in their responsible hands, the ability to control the answer to the question, 'to be or not to be.'"

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told reporters on Thursday he has "serious questions" about the proposal.

Vos contrasted the bill with so-called right-to-try legislation passed by the Assembly on Tuesday. The right-to-try bill would allow terminally ill patients to access experimental treatments outside of clinical trials. It has yet to receive Senate consideration. 

The medical aid-in-dying bill, sometimes referred to as a "right to die" or "death with dignity" bill, would lead patients to "lose hope ... when who knows, maybe one of those right-to-try drugs could save their life," Vos said.

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"I can’t see myself changing my opinion on allowing people to kill themselves as opposed to trying to find a cure," he said.

The proposal is modeled after Oregon's "death with dignity" law, passed in 1997. California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington also allow the practice. The lawmakers behind Wisconsin's bill cited a May 2016 Gallup poll that found 69 percent of Americans believe doctors should be able to painlessly end a terminally ill patient's life if requested. 

A version of the bill introduced last year failed to earn a committee hearing. It faced opposition from Columbia St. Mary's, Ministry Health Care, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Right to Life. 

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.