Washington D.C. Mayor Signs Bill Legalizing Assisted Suicide, Will Target Blacks and Lead to Abuses

National   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Dec 20, 2016   |   12:06PM   |   Washington, DC

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed an assisted suicide bill into law on Monday despite strong opposition from the black community, disability rights advocates, medical professionals and others in the nation’s capital.

The legislation allows mentally competent adult patients diagnosed with a terminal illness to request a lethal dose of drugs from a doctor with the intent to kill themselves. Bowser’s move makes the District of Columbia the sixth area in the nation to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide, following Colorado, Vermont, California, Washington and Oregon.

The pro-assisted suicide group Compassion and Choices, formerly the Hemlock Society, celebrated the news Tuesday in an email to its suppoters.

“Mayor Bowser did not have to sign this bill, and our opponents lobbied her to veto it,” Political Director Charmaine Manansala said in a statement. “But she took the time to listen to her constituents and Compassion & Choices, and we convinced her of the need to give terminally ill Washingtonians more options.”

However, many groups say the assisted suicide legislation could lead to abuses of D.C.’s most vulnerable residents.

Many in the black community have been vocal advocates against the bill, along with disability rights groups, medical groups, pro-lifers and others. The Washington Post reported residents are worried that the bill would threaten the lives of poor and elderly residents, especially minorities.

“Because of Jim Crow laws . . . we didn’t have the opportunity to have the same jobs, to have the same insurance, the same retirement benefits,” community activist Leona Redmond told the news outlet. “It’s really aimed at old black people. It really is.”

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Redmond, who is working against the bill, said they fear that, through the legislation, politicians will continue to make cost cuts a higher priority than healthcare for the poor and elderly.

In states where doctor-prescribed suicide is legal, sick people are being denied medical treatment coverage and offered assisted suicide instead. Most recently, Stephanie Packer, a California wife and mother of four who was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer, said her insurance company refused to cover the cost of her medical treatment.

When Packer asked her insurance company if it would cover the doctor-prescribed suicide drugs, the company told her, “Yes, we do provide that to our patients, and you would only have to pay $1.20 for the medication.”

Patients in Oregon reported similar experiences. The D.C. bill is modeled after the Oregon doctor-prescribed suicide law.

No DC Suicide, a coalition of groups opposed to the legislation, also has concerns. The group said the new law does not require patients to have a mental health screening, even though studies have found that depression is a key factor in suicide cases.

Another concern is that a doctor or nurse is not required to be present when the person takes the drugs. According to the coalition, this leaves a wide opening for coercion; in addition, the person is without medical assistance if something goes wrong.