Washington D.C. Becomes 6th Place in the U.S. to Legalize Assisted Suicide

National   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Feb 20, 2017   |   11:05AM   |   Washington, DC

A Washington, D.C. law allowing doctors to prescribe their patients lethal drugs to commit suicide went into effect Saturday after U.S. Congress failed to block the measure, the Washington Times reports.

The district is the sixth area in the U.S. to legalize the deadly procedure, following Oregon, Washington state, Vermont, California and Colorado. The D.C. council passed the law at the end of 2016, despite wide-spread opposition from African Americans, people with disabilities, medical professionals, pro-lifers and religious groups.

U.S. Congressional leaders did take initial steps to overturn the D.C. law, but their measures did not pass in time.

Here’s more from the report:

Under the federal Home Rule Act, a disapproval resolution passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president within 30 legislative days would have blocked the law from taking effect.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform voted Monday to send a disapproval resolution to the House floor, but it never received a vote. A corresponding Senate resolution did not make it out of committee. …

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Congress can still neutralize the Death with Dignity Act by cutting off its funding through the appropriations process.

Supporters describe the law as “death with dignity” and say it only applies to terminally ill adult patients.

“The advocacy of D.C. residents and local officials is what won this victory,” said Jessica Grennan, spokeswoman for the euthanasia group Compassion and Choices, in a statement. “Democracy conquered the personal mindsets of paternalistic politicians whose opinions should not get in the way of people getting the medical relief they want and need.”

Opponents, however, say the law opens up a wide door for abuse of the elderly and those with disabilities.

“The Act is a recipe for elder abuse, it applies to persons who have years or decades to live and purported oversight is a sham,” said attorney Margaret Dore, president of Choice is an Illusion, in a release earlier this month.

Dore said the new law allows a patient’s heir who could financially benefit from their death to participate in requesting the lethal drugs. She said the law also does not require a doctor or any other unbiased witnesses to be present when the patient takes the drugs.

“But, it gets worse,” Dore continued. “The death certificate is required to list a medical condition as the cause of death, which prevents prosecution. The official cause of death is a medical condition (not murder) as a matter of law. For perpetrators, the death certificate is a ‘stay out of jail free card.’”

Many in the D.C. African American community also oppose the new law. As the Washington Post reported previously, D.C. residents are worried that the law will 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.”

Redmond, who worked to oppose the law, 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 doctor-prescribed suicide, 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.