U.S. House Committee Takes First Steps to Overturn District of Columbia’s Assisted Suicide Law

WASHINGTON — A committee of the U.S. House of Representatives voted on Monday in favor of overturning a recently-passed law in the District of Columbia that allows terminally-ill patients to seek out physician assisted suicide.

The 22 to 14 vote among the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was mainly along party lines, with the only Republican voting no being Rep. Darrell Issa of California.

As previously reported, the “Death With Dignity Act,” introduced by Democrat Mary Cheh, allows for those with an estimated six months or less to live to submit a written request to their physician 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.

The Act passed the D.C. city council in November 11-2, and was signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser.

However, as the measure must also be approved by Congress, some called for legislators to reject the legislation. Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, a Mormon, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the Act.

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“Certainly the federal government’s commitment to preventing suicide is clear,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post on Jan. 27. “In fiscal year 2015, Congress allocated $55 million in the annual budget for suicide prevention efforts. The National Institutes of Health has spent more than $250 million since 2012 studying suicide prevention.”

“The District’s bill is incompatible with this priority to prevent the needless death and grief caused by suicides,” Chaffetz declared. “We should not now or ever take steps to help facilitate, encourage or tacitly accept measures that prematurely end lives. In the interest of protecting D.C. residents, it is imperative that Congress act.”

But Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said that Congress should trust the votes of city council members.

“None of us was elected by D.C. voters. None of us served in the D.C. city council, where the Death with Dignity Act was approved,” he stated. “None of the members of this committee would stand for congressional interference in their own state and local affairs, and none of us should stand for it in this case.”

The effort to overturn the Act now moves to the full House and Senate, but must pass both legislative bodies by Friday before the 30-day deadline ends.

Attorney Margaret Dore of the Oregon-based non-profit organization Choice is an Illusion believes the law should be overturned. She pointed to a situation that occurred in her home state, where assisted suicide is legal.

“Consider, for example, Oregonian Jeanette Hall who was given a terminal diagnosis of six months to a year to live. This was based on her not being treated for cancer. She decided to use Oregon’s law, but her doctor (Kenneth Stevens) stalled her and eventually convinced her to be treated instead,” she explained on her website last month. “In a 2016 declaration, Jeanette Hall states: ‘This July, it will be 16 years since my diagnosis. If [my doctor] had believed in assisted suicide, I would be dead.'”

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