For 1st Time, VA Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill Advances in Senate Health Committee

January 25, 2024

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A terminally ill woman who wants the option of medical aid in dying and a woman whose dad died with needless suffering without this gentle dying option thanked the Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee for advancing the End of Life Options Act Thursday for the first time by an 8 to 6 vote with one abstention.

Barbara Green taking a selfie outside.

Falls Church resident Barbara Green, who has metastatic pancreatic cancer.

The Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee will decide next week whether to advance the bill to the Senate for a floor vote. The historic vote Thursday followed a bill hearing Tuesday before the Health Subcommittee of the Senate Education and Health Committee, which recommended the full committee consider the bill for the first time in a 3-2 vote. No committee or subcommittee had advanced the bill since its original introduction in 2019.

The legislation (SB 280/HB 858) would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the option to obtain a doctor’s prescription for medication they may decide to take to end unbearable suffering peacefully. Washington, D.C. and 10 states allow medical aid in dying. But Virginia does not. The Senate bill patron is the chair of the  Senate Committee of Education and Health, Senator Ghazala Hashmi (Senate District 15/Richmond).

“I am grateful to Senator Hashmi for her leadership and the other committee members who voted to advance this urgently needed legislation for terminally ill Virginians,” said Barbara Green, 79, a longtime bill supporter in Falls Church, who has metastatic pancreatic cancer. “I plead with the members of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee to approve this bill for a Senate floor vote. I should not have to leave Virginia to go to Washington, D.C. to achieve bodily autonomy. I do not see how anyone who has watched a loved one suffer through a lingering death could vote against this compassionate legislation.”

“I thank those among my committee colleagues who joined me in advancing this bill that offers terminally ill Virginians like Barbara Green the option of medical aid in dying. This option empowers adults with a limited life span and in physical pain to gently end intolerable suffering,” said Senator Hashmi. “I urge my fellow Senators to pass this bill quickly and send it to our colleagues in the House. Terminally ill people in Virginia need the peace of mind this option would bring.”

Seven out of 10 (70%) of state residents support medical aid-in-dying, including a majority of state residents regardless of age, education, gender identity, political affiliation or religion (if any), according to a 2022 Wason Center poll. Also in 2022, the Virginia Medical Society dropped its opposition to medical aid in dying and adopted a position of engaged neutrality, so if the bill passes, the medical society will serve as a resource for accurate information and educate their members about the medical aid-in-dying law (see page 67 here).

“Terminal illnesses already rob people of their ability to live the lives they want with the people they love,” said Kate Vasiloff, a longtime bill supporter in Arlington, whose father died with needless suffering from ALS. “Medical aid in dying gives them an ounce of control when everything else has been taken away and all but suffering remains. I implore the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee to advance this legislation because we or our loved ones are just one terminal diagnosis away from knowing first-hand about the importance of this legislation.”

“I trust the Senate will hear the voices of Barbara Green, Kate Vasiloff, and many other Virginians who desperately want and need the option of medical aid in dying,” said Melissa Stacy, NE advocacy manager for Compassion & Choicesand Compassion & Choices Action Network. “Virginia voters will be grateful to lawmakers for showing compassion and love by passing this legislation and providing their dying loved ones with the option to avoid needless suffering.”

 

The Compassion & Choices family comprises two organizations: Compassion & Choices (the 501(c)(3)), whose focus is expanding access, public education and litigation; and Compassion & Choices Action Network (the 501(c)(4)), whose focus is legislative work at the federal and state levels.

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