By Jennifer Popik, J.D. Federal Legislative Director
Late in the evening Thursday, during the committee mark-up of the Commerce, Justice and Science and Financial Services appropriations bill, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a medical doctor, brought an amendment that would repeal D.C.’s dangerous assisted suicide law.
The amendment was adopted by a vote of 28-24.
The amendment now becomes part of the larger appropriations package.
The timing on this amendment was particularly crucial because the law has not yet been fully implemented. Although the so-called Death with Dignity Act became law in DC on February 18, 2017, it is not set to take effect until October 1.
According to a May 23, 2017 article in the Washington Post titled, “D.C. Assisted Suicide Law Could Be Blocked Under Trump’s Budget,” there is already effort underway now, despite the October 1 start date, to get guidelines in place for physicians.
Since its inception, the pro-life movement has been as concerned with protecting the lives of older people and people with disabilities as it has been dedicated to protecting unborn children from abortion. Therefore, NRLC has always vigorously opposed legalizing assisted suicide and strongly supports the amendment from Rep. Harris.
Five states (California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont) and D.C. 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. law, 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. law 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 supports inclusion of this provision in the final budget.
More detailed discussion of the threat to life that assisted suicide poses can be found at www.nrlc.org/medethics/directkilling.