Supporters of Medical Aid in Dying Oppose New House Resolution Opposing It

Urge Members of Congress to Reject Non-Binding Measure with No Force of Law
September 27, 2017

Dr. Omega Silva, a retired physician and former president of the American Medical Women’s Association and D.C. resident who has three cancer diagnoses.

Advocates for laws in D.C. and six states that authorize medical aid in dying are urging members of Congress to oppose a House concurrent resolution wrongly claiming medical aid in dying “puts everyone…at risk of deadly harm.” The full resolution (H.Con.Res.80), introduced by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (Ohio) and cosponsored by Reps. Luis Correa (Calif.) and Juan Vargas (Calif.), states:

“Expressing the sense of the Congress that assisted suicide (sometimes referred to as death with dignity, end-of-life options, aid-in-dying, or similar phrases) puts everyone, including those most vulnerable, at risk of deadly harm and undermines the integrity of the health care system.”

“Medical aid in dying harms no one and benefits even those who make no request for end-of-life medication, by spurring conversations about all their end-of-life options, including hospice and palliative care, and better utilization of them,” said Dr. Omega Silva, a retired physician and former president of the American Medical Women’s Association and D.C. resident who has three cancer diagnoses. “In fact, that is exactly what the Los Angeles Times recently reported is happening in California just one year after its medical aid-in-dying law took effect. The reality is medical aid in dying strengthens the integrity of the health care system.”

“Even though the resolution would not have the force of law, we urge members of Congress to reject it. It contains false statements, and disregards their constituents who strongly support this end-of-life option,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, who was an ER and ICU nurse and physician assistant for 25 years before she became an attorney and coauthored the nation’s first medical aid-in-dying law in Oregon in 1994. “Members of Congress from states that have authorized this safe option to end intolerable suffering peacefully, like California Reps. Correa and Vargas, are disrespectful of their own state legislative process. In addition, they are turning their backs on constituents who desperately need the peace of mind medical aid in dying provides.”

Two weeks ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill, H.R. 3354, with an amendment by U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (Md.) to repeal D.C.’s Death with Dignity Act that authorizes medical aid in dying in the District of Columbia.

“I love life and have undergone many rounds of physically debilitating cancer treatments to extend it, but I am realistic about the fact that I have a deadly disease,” said D.C. resident Mary Klein, who only wants the option of medical aid in dying to peacefully end her suffering if it becomes intolerable. “While some people and members of Congress have the right to object to medical aid in dying, they have no right to make my end-of-life care decisions, just as I have no right to make theirs.”

In addition to D.C., six states have authorized medical aid in dying: California, Vermont (via legislation in 2015 and 2013), Colorado, Oregon, Washington State (via ballot initiatives in 2016, 1994 and 2008) and Montana (via a Montana Supreme Court ruling in 2009). Collectively, D.C. and these six states represent 18 percent of Americans and have 40 years of combined experience with no documented misuse of this medical practice. Only mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer who can self-ingest the medication can qualify for medical aid in dying.

Disability Rights Oregon testified last year that it “has not received a complaint of exploitation or coercion of an individual with disabilities in the use of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act” since the law took effect in 1997. According to a Journal of Medical Ethics report about the Oregon Death with Dignity Act: “Rates of assisted dying in Oregon…showed no evidence of heightened risk for the elderly, women, the uninsured…people with low educational status, the poor, the physically disabled or chronically ill, minors, people with psychiatric illnesses including depression, or racial or ethnic minorities, compared with background populations.”

National and state polls show a majority of Americans across the ethnic, political and religious spectrum support medical aid in dying. This majority includes African-Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, conservatives, Democrats/Democratic-leaning independents, liberals, moderates, Republicans/Republican-leaning independents, Catholics, Christians, Protestants, people of other faiths, people living with disabilities, and physicians. A Medscape online survey last fall shows 7,500 doctors nationwide from 25 medical specialties nationwide support medical aid in dying by a 2-1 margin (57% to 29%).

Multiple national medical associations hve adopted policies supporting medical aid in dying and rejecting the term assisted suicide to describe medical aid in dying. They include: the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative MedicineThe American College of Legal MedicineAmerican Medical Women’s AssociationAmerican Medical Student Association, and American Public Health Association.

Contrary to claims by opponents, there is no connection between medical aid-in-dying laws and suicide rates. “Suicide, like other human behaviors, has no single determining cause,” concluded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2017 report, Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policy, Programs, and Practices. “Instead, suicide occurs in response to multiple biological, psychological, interpersonal, environmental and societal influences that interact with one another, often over time.”

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