Terminally Ill D.C. Woman Asks D.C. Health Dept., Physicians to Help Her Access D.C. Medical Aid-in-Dying Law
Advocates urge D.C. officials to cut regulatory barriers that have prevented anyone from utilizing law
The law allows mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the option to request their doctor write a prescription for medication that they can decide to take to die peacefully in their sleep if their suffering becomes unbearable.
Compassion & Choices’ free end-of-life consultation service (800.247.7421) has received 11 requests from D.C. residents for information about how to access the law since it took effect in February 2017. Unfortunately, none of them – or any DC resident – has been able to access the law.
“I still cannot find a physician who is willing to take over my care and write a prescription for medical aid in dying,” said Mary Klein, who has suffered from terminal ovarian cancer for 3-1/2 years and recently decided to cease further chemo treatment because it was not working. “I urge the D.C. Department of Health to work with healthcare advocacy organizations like Compassion & Choices…to launch a mass education campaign to help D.C. make the law work.”
The D.C. Health Department issued administrative rules in June 2017 that exceed the law’s requirements and the regulations of similar medical aid-in-dying laws in six states with 40 years of experience safely implementing this end-of-life care option: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California and Colorado.
“Two weeks ago, President Trump signed an omnibus spending bill that preserved the D.C. law,” said Kim Callinan, CEO of Compassion & Choices. “But D.C. residents, like Mary, continue to struggle with obstacles because physicians and pharmacists willing to participate in the law face too many regulatory burdens. We can support Mary’s desire to access the law simply by identifying two compassionate doctors who are willing to go through the regulatory hurdles and prescribe.”
The D.C. Council passed the D.C. Death with Dignity Act by a supermajority vote of 11-2 in November 2016 after a July 2015 Lake Research poll showed two-thirds of D.C. residents (67%) support medical aid in dying as a voluntary option for terminally ill adults.
“Those that decide to utilize this option should have the full support of the medical community, the lawmakers, faith leaders and the residents of D.C.,” said Rev. Charles McNeill, the pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Northeast D.C. and a member of Compassion & Choices’ African-American Leadership Council. “I stand with Mary today and those like her who need to access this law. And I challenge everyone to stand with Mary as well.”