By Jennifer Popik, JD, Director, Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics
On January 12, 2017, Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-Oh.) and Senator James Lankford (R-Ok.) introduced a joint measure aimed at protecting the residents of the District of Columbia from becoming the 6th jurisdiction to legalize the dangerous practice of assisted suicide.
But to nullify the District of Columbia assisted suicide law, H.J. Res. 27/ S. J. Res. 4 will have to be acted on soon. While Congress has taken the first steps to prevent the assisted suicide law from taking effect, the clock is running.
In late 2016, the District of Columbia Council passed the deceptively titled “Death With Dignity Act,” which legalizes assisted suicide in the federal district.
Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress has exclusive legislative authority over the District of Columbia. But Congress has a mere 30 legislative days to review actions, introduce resolutions, vote in both houses of Congress, and have the measure signed by the President.
Pro-lifers have long vigorously opposed legalizing assisted suicide. Five states (California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont) permit the dangerous practice of allowing physicians to write lethal prescriptions to certain groups of persons living with serious illness.
Where legal, as is the case with the D.C. Council action, assisted suicide laws permit insurance companies to pay for the lethal doses. Moreover, nothing in the law prevents insurance companies from promoting the relatively inexpensive drugs.
Apart from the danger of permitting insurers to recommend suicide drugs to seriously ill patients, the Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act of 1997, Pub. L. No. 105-12 (Apr. 30, 1997), which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, strictly forbids the District from using funds for purposes related to assisted suicide.
While the D.C. Council bill was promoted as “merely” providing another end of life “option,” this law can become a vehicle to push the medically vulnerable into an early death.
The legal definition of terminal illness used in D.C. will sweep in vast groups of people who could otherwise live for many years with continued treatment. Additionally, there is no requirement that patients be screened for depression or other treatable mental illness.
National Right to Life strongly encourages you to reach out to your Members of Congress and urge them to vote in favor of H.J. Res. 27/ S. J. Res. 4 to nullify District of Columbia assisted suicide law.
More detailed discussion of the threat to life that assisted suicide poses can be found at www.nrlc.org/medethics/directkilling.