D.C. Council approves assisted suicide bill

By Dave Andrusko

dc-b2138  With an 11-2 preliminary vote two weeks ago, there was little suspense—but much dread—going into yesterday’s second and final vote. And the District of Columbia did vote, by the same margin, to pass B21-38, “The D.C. Death With Dignity Act.”

“Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has said she will not veto the bill but has not indicated whether she will sign it,” reported the Washington Post’s Aaron C. Davis and Fenit Nirappil. “If she does nothing after 10 days, the legislation automatically becomes an act.”

“We are disappointed that the D.C. council has approved this dangerous assisted suicide measure,” said Jennifer Popik, JD, director, Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics. “They have shown a blatant disregard for the lives of the District’s medically vulnerable citizens and are sending a message to these citizens that their lives are less worthy to be lived.”

“Compassion & Choice,” the driving force behind assisted suicide measures nationwide, hailed the decision, noting that last week Colorado passed its “End of Life Options” Act—Proposition 106.

“The vote, which took a matter of minutes and involved no discussion, capped more than a year of intense discussion and lobbying on the part of lawmakers, advocates and opponents,” Davis and Nirappil wrote. “D.C. is the first predominantly black community to legalize what is called ‘death with dignity,’ overcoming objections from some African American residents and others who worried that ill patients could be coerced into an early death.”

D.C. joins Colorado and four other states to legalize the dangerous practice: California, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. Additionally, the Supreme Court of Montana allows a doctor, if prosecuted or sued for assisting in a suicide, to raise the defense that a person consented.

National Right to Life News Today has outlined in detail the dangers posed by such loosely-written (and intentionally deceptive) legislation to the poor, the depressed, those with disabilities, and those with a “quality of life” hospital ethics committees find wanting.

For instance, under the new D.C. law, as in the five states with similar laws, the patient is supposed to have six months to live or less.

However, we know that many people in Oregon (the “model” for  B21-38) who receive lethal prescriptions but postpone taking them long outlive their prognosis.

This is not due merely to errors in prediction, commonplace though these are. It is because the term “terminally ill” is interpreted to include those likely to die within the time limit without life-saving treatment, even if they could live for many years with treatment.

Consequently, this so-called “safeguard” has allowed the killing of diabetics, those with HIV, or those with hepatitis simply because without treatment they would die within six months—even though with treatment they could live much longer. Assisting suicide legalization has led people to give up on treatment and unnecessarily lose years of their lives.

Many observers have noted that medical cost concerns will be an inherent problem with these kinds of laws since the lethal drugs are relatively cheap. In fact, The Denver Post, in opposing the law agreed that “…Proposition 106 would entice insurers to drop expensive treatments for terminal patients even when medical advances might add months or years more to a life that a patient may wish to take.”

Other abuses ranging from patients with dementia and mental illness receiving a lethal dose, to numerous non-terminally ill people getting prescriptions, to pressure from the state health plans to utilize the cheaper suicide option have been documented and exposed. Nevertheless, the real depth and number of abuses is difficult to know.

The law relies on doctors to self-report. However, there is no penalty for physicians who do not report statistics and complications. Furthermore, doctors are not held to the ordinary standard of medical malpractice in implementing the “safeguards,” but a far lower one.

Under Oregon law, the death certificate is actually falsified so that it lists the underlying illness, not suicide, as the cause of death. And much to the dismay of many families who found this out too late, the law does not require families to be notified of a patient’s suicidal intent.
We can expect that after a year or two, Colorado will claim that the law is working well and that there have been few or no “abuses.” That is significant because these misleading reports will be used to push for legalization in additional states. Several places are still actively considering assisted suicide bills, and we expect many, many more fights in legislatures next year.