D.C. Mayor Signs Death With Dignity Act

December 20, 2016

Compassion & Choices thanked D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser today for signing the D.C. Death with Dignity Act that would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults the option of medical aid in dying to end unbearable suffering. The D.C. Council approved the bill on Nov. 15 by a veto-proof 11-2 margin.

“We are very grateful to Mayor Bowser and the D.C. Council for honoring their constituents’ wishes by enacting this legislation,” said Donna Smith, D.C. field and legislative manager for Compassion & Choices. “Every terminally ill adult should have the freedom and liberty to make their own decisions about how they want to die in comfort and peace, in consultation with their family, physicians and spiritual leaders.”

After the mayor’s office transmits the bill to Congress, it will have 30 days in session to review it and to pass a resolution preventing the law from being enacted, according to D.C. Legislative Process. The District will become the 7th jurisdiction to authorize this medical practice unless Congress chooses to intervene.

Five of the six African-American Council members supported the legislation after the predominantly African-American D.C. Commission on Aging endorsed it. Two-thirds of D.C. residents (67%) support the end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying, according to a July 2015 Lake Research poll.

“The Mayor has now joined with the overwhelming majority of District residents and members of the D.C. Council to support the Death with Dignity bill,” said bill author Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3). “This is our thoughtful, local choice, and Congress should respect it.”

The bill signing follows the recent enactment of similar laws in Colorado on Nov. 8 and in California in Oct. 2015, showing strong public support across jurisdictions of diverse sizes and demographics across the nation. Medical aid in dying is authorized in four other states with a combined 30+ years of experience with the practice: Oregon (enacted in 1997), Washington (enacted in 2008), Montana (enacted via state Supreme Court ruling in 2009) and Vermont (enacted in 2013).

“I’m doing everything I can to live. But I have advanced ovarian cancer and will die from it,” said D.C. resident Mary Klein, who has incurable ovarian cancer and is featured in a YouTube video about why she supports medical aid in dying (www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZziF0U79jkA&feature=youtu.be). “When I have only a few more months to live, and if I’m in intolerable pain, I’d like the option of taking medication so that I can have a peaceful and dignified death.”

“As an internist and endocrinologist for 45 years, I know the limits of modern medicine,” said Dr. Omega Silva, who has three cancer diagnoses, was the first woman president of the Howard University Medical Alumni Association and is a former president of the American Medical Women’s Association, which supports medical aid in dying. “That’s why I want this end-of-life care option to ensure I do not have to suffer needlessly in my last months, weeks or days of life.”

A growing number of national organizations representing healthcare professionals have endorsed or taken a neutral position on medical aid in dying because it relieves intolerable suffering and there is no evidence of abuse or coercion involving this practice. In addition to the American Medical Women’s Association, they include the American Academy of Hospice & Palliative Medicine, American Academy of Legal Medicine, American Medical Student Association and American Public Health Association.

“My husband, Sean, died in extreme pain from HIV-exacerbated mesothelioma, ready to be done but with no options,” said Michael Kaplan, who has lived with HIV since 1992 and Type 1 diabetes since 1980, and was the husband of late reality-TV star Sean Sasser, an HIV activist. “I urge Congress to allow this bill to become law so others will not be forced to suffer needlessly while waiting for the inevitable.”

Compassion & Choices
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Patricia A. González-Portillo
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