D.C. Council to Consider Death with Dignity Act Following Health Committee Approval

October 15, 2016

This article originally appeared in the Washington Sun.

Advocates for the D.C. Death with Dignity Act praised the D.C. Council’s Health and Human Services Committee for approving the bill by a 3-2 vote this afternoon, so the full D.C. Council can consider the bill before the end of the year.

The legislation would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults the additional end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying. It would enable them to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they could take to die peacefully in their sleep to stop unbearable suffering.

“I am very grateful that my Health and Human Services Committee colleagues have voted to send to the full Council historic legislation which gives terminally ill D.C. residents the option to die peacefully in their sleep if their suffering becomes intolerable,” said Councilmember Cheh (Democrat, Ward 3). Cheh is a member of the Health and Human Services Committee and the author of the D.C. Death with Dignity Act. “I urge the full Council to pass this bill and Mayor Bowser to sign it into law. The vast majority of our constituents want this end-of-life care option, and it has a proven record of safety in other states.”

Compassion & Choices, which is advocating for the bill, will post a new video later today of D.C. resident, Mary Klein, who has incurable ovarian cancer. The video will be posted at www.CompassionAndChoices.org/dc-video and asks bill supporters to “Tell the D.C. Council and Mayor Bowser to enact the Death with Dignity Act at CompassionAndChoices.org.”

Two out of three (67%) of D.C. residents support the right of terminally ill adults with less than six months to live to legally obtain medication to end their lives, according to a July 2015 Lake Research poll.

“My unique experience with this issue is both as a doctor and a patient. I have three cancer diagnoses, and if the time comes, I would want medical aid in dying as an option for myself and loved ones,” said Dr. Omega Silva, the first woman president of the Howard University Medical Alumni Association and former president of the American Medical Women’s Association, which supports medical aid in dying. “All terminally ill D.C. residents would benefit from having this option because it spurs conversations about all end-of-life care options, and better utilization of hospice and palliative care.”

A growing number of national organizations representing healthcare professionals have endorsed or taken a neutral position on medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option for mentally capable, terminally ill adults. In addition to the American Medical Women’s Association, they include the American Medical Student AssociationAmerican Public Health AssociationAmerican Academy of Legal Medicine, and American Academy of Hospice & Palliative Medicine.

Medical aid in dying is currently authorized in five states with a combined 30+ years of experience with this end of life option: Oregon (1998), Washington (2009), Montana (2010), Vermont (2013) and California (June 2016). There is not a single documented case of abuse or coercion involving the practice of medical aid in dying in these states.

“I want the option of medical aid in dying, so I and others do not have to needlessly die in agony as my husband Sean did,” said Michael Kaplan, who has lived with HIV since 1992 and Type 1 diabetes since 1980 and was the husband of the late TV reality star Sean Sasser, who was an HIV activist. “I urge the full D.C. Council and Mayor Bowser authorize this option, so terminally ill D.C. residents who want it can utilize it to die peacefully.”

“Terminally ill people with disabilities should have the same autonomy to utilize medical aid in dying as an end-of-life option as everyone else,” said Compassion & Choices Political Director Charmaine Manansala, who has suffered from multiple sclerosis for 15 years, which significantly limits her mobility. “Regardless of whether someone is disabled or not, they must be mentally capable and terminally ill to qualify for medical aid in dying, and they have to self-administer the medication if they decide to take it.”

Compassion & Choices
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