WASHINGTON — A committee for the District of Columbia has approved a bill that would legalize physician assisted suicide.
The “Death With Dignity Act” was advanced on Wednesday in the Committee on Health and Human Services by a 3-2 vote.
Introduced by Democrat Mary Cheh, the Act allows for terminally ill patients to submit a request in writing that they be provided with medication that will end their life.
“A written request … shall be witnessed by at least two individuals who, in the presence of the patient, attest to the best of their knowledge and belief the patient is capable, acting voluntarily, and not being unduly influenced to sign the request,” it reads in part.
The patient must also make two verbal requests within a period 0f 15 days.
“I introduced this bill to give dying patients greater choice and control over their final moments,” Cheh said prior to the vote. “In the face of imminent death, meeting a patient’s individual needs and wishes compassionately should be our top priority. If a dying person wishes to peacefully end his or her life rather than endure prolonged pain and suffering, we should not stand in their way.”
But some have expressed opposition to the measure, stating that it is “nearly impossible” to predict that a person’s illness is absolutely terminal.
“Even doctors will admit such a prognosis is nearly impossible to accurately predict. The inability to accurately predict life expectancy is among the most compelling reasons to oppose physician-assisted suicide,” the site No DC Suicide outlines.
It also opines that there are no safeguards to determine that the patient isn’t simply seeking to die because of discouragement or depression.
“Mental health professionals argue strongly that the overwhelming number of suicides could have been avoided with the right therapeutic intervention. And, they know that the stress and turmoil caused by difficult medical diagnoses can trigger a depressive episode—a discrete medical condition that can be treated,” the site states.
However, the bill includes a provision requiring a counseling referral in situations where the doctor senses that the patient has a mental disorder that could impair their judgment.
J.J. Hanson, president of the Patients’ Rights Action Fund and terminal brain cancer survivor, spoke with council members and the media this past week to explain why he believes the bill is dangerous.
“I needed care, not assisted suicide bills,” he said. “It doesn’t solve the problem that we’re talking about here. It just creates new ones.”
The “Death With Dignity Act” is set to go before the entire city council on Oct. 18.
As previously reported, there are five American states in which assisted suicide is legal. Following its passage in the legislature in October 2015, California became the fifth state to legalize physician-assisted suicide following Vermont, Oregon, Washington and Montana. Assisted suicide was permitted in Montana through the courts, however, as opposed to a vote in the legislature.