For 1st Time, VA Senate Approves Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill

February 19, 2024

House Health and Human Service Committee Also Reports Bill

A terminally ill woman who wants the option of medical aid in dying thanked the full Virginia Senate and House Health and Human Services Committee for approving the End of Life Options Act Friday for the first time. The Senate voted 21-19 to pass the bill and the House Health and Human Services Committee Thursday voted 12-10 to advance the bill.

No committee or subcommittee had ever 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).

“Today, we took a historic vote in the Senate to pass medical aid in dying. I thank my Senate colleagues who joined me in advancing this bill that offers terminally ill Virginians an option for ending unbearable physical pain in their final stages of life,” said Senator Hashmi. “I urge my colleagues in the other Chamber to advance the House cognate so that terminally ill and suffering patients in Virginia have peace of mind knowing that this option is accessible to them.”

VA advocate Barbara Green with her oncolovgist Raymond Wadlow, MD Feb 2024

VA advocate Barbara Green with her oncolovgist Raymond Wadlow, MD Feb 2024

“I am grateful to Senator Hashmi for her leadership, the senators, and the House Health and Human Services 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 House members to approve this bill. 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.”

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).

“We are incredibly grateful to Senator Hashmi for her work to ensure that terminally ill Virginians have access to this end-of-life care option. We’re also thankful to Senator Boysko for her support and to Congresswoman Wexton for supporting this legislation while facing her life-limiting illness. I trust House members will hear the voices of Barbara Green and many other Virginians who desperately want and need the option of medical aid in dying,” said Melissa Stacy, NE advocacy manager for Compassion & Choices and 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.”

A 2019 University of Pittsburgh School of Law report concluded the experience in the numerous states and Washington, D.C., where medical aid in dying is authorized, “puts to rest most of the arguments that opponents of authorization have made — or at least those that can be settled by empirical data. The most relevant data — namely, those relating to the traditional and more contemporary concerns that opponents of legalization have expressed — do not support and, in fact, dispel the concerns of opponents.”

The use of hospice care among Medicare recipients has more than doubled over the past two decades. Yet, studies estimate that nearly 70% of cancer patients who receive low doses of opioids to treat background pain (pain experienced for more than half the waking days during the previous week) still experience severe bouts of breakthrough painCancer is by far the most common diagnosis among terminally ill individuals who qualify for medical aid in dying. 

About Compassion & Choices/Compassion & Choices Action Network:

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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VICTORY: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed the improved End-of-Life Options Act.