Delaware Legislature Takes First Step to Legalize Assisted Suicide

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Jan 25, 2018   |   12:47PM   |   Dover, DE

Delaware lawmakers are considering a dangerous bill this week that would jeopardize people’s lives by legalizing doctor-prescribed suicide.

State House Bill 160 passed a legislative committee last year, and the full state House could take action on the bill as soon as Thursday. It would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients to use to commit suicide.

The bill is rife with potential for abuse, and disability rights advocates, medical professionals, religious and pro-life advocates rallied against it Tuesday outside the Legislative Hall, Delaware Online reports.

Opponents said the legislation could jeopardize the lives of the most vulnerable people in society, including the elderly and those with disabilities.

Even more concerning, state Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, the sponsor, recently amended the bill to include “intellectually disabled” people, according to National Review.

“These are people who can’t legally enter contracts! They can’t control where they live! They can’t make their own medical decisions!” columnist Wesley J. Smith wrote in reaction to the news. “… Yet, if they have a terminal illness, they are going to be able to commit assisted suicide if a social worker–who may be ideologically predisposed in favor–confirms that they ‘understand’ that they are receiving a poison prescription?”

Life Legal Defense Foundation outlined even more problems with the bill, including its definition of “terminally ill.”

“Terminal Disease” is defined as “an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, produce death within 6 months.” However, the legal group said the definition does not specify with treatment or without treatment.

This means “that many chronic but entirely treatable conditions may qualify a patient for physician-assisted suicide. For example, does an insulin-dependent diabetic have a ‘terminal disease’ under the bill?” the legal group wrote.

Another concern is the lack of oversight of the drugs once they have been prescribed. There is no requirement that a physician or other authority be present when the person takes the drugs. This leaves open the possibility of coercion or force, as well as the potential for the deadly drugs to fall into the wrong hands.

According to the legal group, “[T]here is no provision for proper labeling, proper handling, or proper storage of these lethal drugs.”

Dr. Kirk Allison, a past director of the Program in Human Rights and Health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, warned that the bill also instructs doctors to falsify medical records.

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In a letter to state legislators, Allison wrote:

HB 160 states regarding death by lethal ingestion, “The death certificate must list the underlying terminal illness as the cause of death.”

The falsification of medical-legal documents for the sake of social sensibilities and legal impunity will protect abuse by making systematic patterns non-tracable and non-prosecutable.

It constitutes a form of state-imposed corruption of physicians and registrars which does not protect the public, nor the integrity of the public health vital records and data.

Late last year, the Medical Society of Delaware re-affirmed its opposition to assisted suicide.

Doctor-prescribed suicide is legal in five states and Washington, D.C.

In several of these states, sick people are being denied medical treatment coverage and offered assisted suicide instead. 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 but told her it would cover assisted suicide drugs. Several patients in Oregon reported similar experiences.

ACTION ALERT: Contact Delaware House members here.