Not one person has used DC’s “death with dignity” law

By Dave Andrusko

Last year when the District of Columbia was debating an assisted suicide proposal, NRL News Today wrote several stories that illustrated the resistance of the District’s large African-American community and the hesitancy of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser who nonetheless signed the “Death with Dignity Act.”

Last week the Washington Post—which was of course in favor of the measure—ran a story by Fenit Nirappil under the headline, “ A year after D.C. passed its controversial assisted suicide law, not a single patient has used it.”

Compassion and Choices, the pro-euthanasia advocacy group, was the principle force behind the measure. So why has not a single person taken “advantage” of the law?

They blame it on a “cumbersome process,” instituted by the health department which “dissuades doctors from participating.”

“It’s been exceptionally, exceptionally slow,” said Kat West, national director of policy and programs for Compassion and Choices. “Especially in the first year, there’s usually a lot of interest in learning a lot about these laws. That, we think, has been really dampened and discouraged in D.C. because of these administrative rules.”

Really? Is that explanation? Let’s dig deeper in Nirappil’s story.

Let’s begin with why did the Health Department require that doctors who are willing to “help” have their names on a registry?

Health officials imposed the requirements in response to concerns that patients could be pressured into an early death. The practice is especially controversial among African Americans, who make up nearly half of the D.C. population, because of a historical distrust of the health-care system.

This is very important. The “right to die” movement is overwhelmingly white, certainly the high-profile types, as the Post noted in stories that ran during the debate.

At a rally in favor of the bill held last year, as Nirappil wrote at the time, most of the demonstrators were white.

“They are not people who look [like] me,” said Leona Redmond, a 64-year-old longtime District community activist who has been organizing other African American seniors against the legislation.

Nirappil quoted Patricia King, a Georgetown Law School professor “who has written about the racial dynamics of assisted death.”

“Historically, African Americans have not had a lot of control over their bodies, and I don’t think offering them assisted suicide is going to make them feel more autonomous,” King said.

Thus far there “doesn’t seem to be much interest from doctors,” Nirappil writes.

No local practicing physician testified in favor of the measure, and several opposed it, during debate before the D.C. Council.

“The physician community was not out there advocating for it, so I don’t think there should have been an assumption that there would have been a lot of physicians signing up,” said Pia Duryea, a spokeswoman for the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, which stayed neutral on the bill. “We haven’t had any doctors call us up and say, ‘I really want to sign up, and I think the process is too cumbersome.’ ”

G. Kevin Donovan, the director of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center who opposed the law, told the Post, “Even those who say go ahead and pass the law — they don’t want to participate in it.”

He added, “They want other people to do it for other patients. It’s very difficult for a physician to directly send their patients to death because everything in their training is to try and do what’s good for their patients.”

Sibley Memorial Hospital is the only hospital in the District to publicly say its doctors may participate, according to the Post.

Nirappil begins and ends his story with the account of a woman with cancer whose only purpose is to elicit support for assisted suicide.

Naturally there is not a single word in the entire 1,109 word-long story about palliative care or the documented truth that overwhelmingly people who seek assisted suicide do so not because of pain but because they are “tired of life” or are lonely.

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