For First Time, Del. Senate Executive Committee Advances Medical Aid-In-Dying Bill to Senate Floor

Vote Follows Emotional Public Testimony By Terminally Ill, Former Caregivers, Faith Leaders, Doctors, Clinical Experts
June 12, 2024

For the first time, the Delaware Senate Executive Committee heard the Ron Silverio/Heather Block Delaware End of Life Options Act (HB140) and voted to advance it to the Senate floor. The vote came after public testimony in support of HB140 from terminally ill Delawareans, former caregivers, faith leaders, disability rights advocates, and physicians, including the President of the Delaware Medical Society.

“These moving testimonies are just a small representation of the 72% of Delaware voters who support this bill, many of whom have personal experiences watching their loved ones suffer at the end of life,” said Heather Pope, Delaware campaign manager for Compassion & Choices. “We thank the Senate Executive Committee for hearing their voices today and voting to advance this compassionate end-of-life care option.”

The bill currently has the most sponsors and cosponsors (17) since its introduction in 2017, including all members of Democratic legislative leadership, and would permit mentally capable, terminally ill adults who live in Delaware the option to request and self-ingest prescription medication to peacefully end their suffering. The legislation stipulates a wide range of safeguards, including a requirement that two healthcare providers certify that a patient has a prognosis of six months or less to live, and that makes it a crime to coerce a terminally ill person into using medical aid in dying.

“In my decades of practice, I have seen probably thousands of patients,” testified Dr. Robert Varipapa, a neurologist who has practiced in Dover and Milford for over 35 years, currently President of the Medical Society of Delaware. “…[D]eath is an issue that we need to talk about, and I do speak with these patients frequently, and almost all of them want autonomy and control over their passing.”

“I have been doing this testimony now for the last six years,” said terminally ill Wilmington resident Judy Govatos. “I have had cancer twice in the last 10 years. Now, at 80, my time is running out, and without this bill, I am facing a prolonged period of needless suffering when I die.”

Advocate Linda Gould, who is a death doula in Newark, testified: “… I just want to encourage each of you senators to just learn from your colleague, Representative Hensley,” said Gould. “He changed his vote from oppos[ing] to supporting this medical aid-in-dying bill because he experienced firsthand, with the death of his mother in California, the peace, the comfort, that this can bring not only to the dying person, but to the family as well.”

Delawareans Judy Govatos (left) and Dr. Robert Varipapa (right) testified in support of HB140 before the Senate Executive Committee.

Delawareans Judy Govatos (left) and Dr. Robert Varipapa (right) testified in support of HB140 before the Senate Executive Committee.

A majority of Delaware voters and physicians support the option of medical aid in dying. In a 2020 survey, 72% of Delawareans surveyed said they support legislation that would allow medical aid in dying in Delaware; notably, the majority of voter support spanned demographic, geographic, and political spectrums across the state. In addition, a 2022 survey found that nearly three-in-four (74%) Delaware physicians support medical-aid-in-dying legislation, and 70% said they would want the option of medical aid in dying for themselves, if necessary.

HB140 is named in honor of two dedicated Delaware advocates, Dover resident Ron Silverio and Lewes resident Heather Block, both of whom died in 2018 with needless suffering because they did not have the option of medical aid in dying.

Medical aid in dying is authorized in 10 states and Washington, D.C., including Northeastern states Maine and New Jersey, representing 22% of the nation’s population.

For background information and Frequently Asked Questions about medical aid in dying, visit: bit.ly/FAQsMedicalAidInDying

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