Delaware House Health Committee Releases Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill to House Floor

Committee Responds to Urgent Pleas From Delawareans with Incurable Diseases
January 19, 2022

The Delaware House Health & Human Development Committee released a medical aid-in-dying bill to the House floor at the end of a hearing Wednesday featuring Delawareans with incurable diseases and family members of loved ones who died in agony because they didn’t have the option of medical aid in dying. 

The committee voted 8 to 7 to move the legislation, the Ron Silverio/Heather Block Delaware End of Life Options Act (HB 140), to the House floor. The bill would allow mentally capable, terminally ill adults to obtain prescription medication they could take to peacefully end unbearable suffering. 

The legislation, which has 12 sponsors and cosponsors, is named in honor of two Delawareans, Ron Silverio and Heather Block, who had terminal cancer, but bravely advocated for the bill’s passage until they died with needless suffering because they didn’t have the option of medical aid in dying. 

“Heather Block and Ron Silverio…asked for this option at the end of their lives, and in our failure to act, we, the government, stood between them and their physicians in literally the most painful days of their lives, the end of their lives. We failed them,” said bill author Rep. Paul Baumbach (Dover). “We must hear from the next Heather Block and Ron Silverio…Hopefully we will hear these people today, these people with standing, and not fail them.”

“Ron did not want to die and worked so courageously to stay alive,” said Dover resident Susan Lahaie, widow of Ron Silverio. “The one thing he should not have had to worry about for those days, weeks, months and years was how he would die. I am convinced that if Ron had known on day one that he would have the option to be able to take medication to ensure a peaceful end to his life that he would have actually lived longer.”

“I am here today representing her [Heather Block],” said Kim Callinan. president/CEO of Compassion & Choices and Compassion & Choices Action Network. “The Heather Blocks of the world are simply trying to determine how they die. It doesn’t feel right that a zip code should determine if you have this option.”

A 2020 GBAO Strategies poll showed Delaware voters support medical aid in dying by more than a 3-1 margin (72% vs. 20%), including a strong majority spanning the geographic, political and racial spectrum. 

Despite the wide availability of hospice, palliative care and pain management, national studies show that between 65 and 85 percent of patients with cancer (the most common disease among people who request medical aid-in-dying) experience breakthrough pain.

“My 30-plus years as a physician did not prepare me for the recent death of my wife who suffered during the last 3 months of her life in spite of the best hospice and palliative care. HB 140 will give me peace of mind knowing medical aid in dying can be an end-of-life option for myself, my family and my patients who request it,” said Dover neurology specialist Robert Varipapa, MD, president-elect of the Medical Society of Delaware. “After much work with leadership, I am proud to report that the Medical Society of Delaware has recently withdrawn its historic opposition to medical aid in dying.”

“This bill is important to me and many other people in the disability community and I am a voice here today to speak for those who can’t,” said Wilmington resident Vickie George, a quadriplegic living with progressive multiple sclerosis since 1995 who served on the governor’s Council for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention as the sole voice of the disability community. “The opposition does not speak for me or the many others who support it…The people who do not support it will always have the option to not elect medical aid in dying… as they or anyone should.” 

Neighboring Washington, D.C., New Jersey and nine other states allow medical aid in dying, but Delaware currently does not. 

“She [my mom] knew that New Jersey had passed its medical-aid-in-dying law in 2019. It was tantalizingly close…

Fay and Monona Yin.

From left, Fay Hoh Yin, a longtime Wilmington resident who died in 2020 from lymphoma with her daughter Monona Yin.

but still cruelly far,”  said Monona Yin, whose mom, Fay Hoh Yin, was a longtime Wilmington resident, who died in 2020 from lymphoma. “All she wanted was the insurance policy of knowing she would not be made to suffer to the bitter end, beyond any hope of recovery. This bill affects no one but those who want it desperately. Please show them and their families the ultimate mercy.”

“During treatment I was given all kinds of meds for the pain,” said Wilmington resident Judy Govatos, who has stage 4 lymphoma. “Instead of killing the pain, they nearly killed me. Please pass the bill to allow me to die at home  in my own bed, surrounded by loved ones, in peace.”

“My husband, Paul Skillin, died slowly and painfully from metastatic prostate cancer last April,” said Lewes resident Brenda Ross. “If medical aid in dying were an option, he would have chosen it and could have avoided the torture of his last weeks. We would have shared his favorite meal, listened to his favorite music, I would have kissed him goodnight, and he would have fallen asleep.” 

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Compassion & Choices is comprised of two organizations that improve care and expand options at life’s end: Compassion & Choices (501(c)(3)) educates, empowers, defends, and advocates; the Compassion & Choices Action Network (501(c)(4)) focuses exclusively on legislation, ballot campaigns, and limited electoral work.

Paid for by Compassion & Choices Action Network.

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