The federal government should not intrude on Washington, D.C.’s Death with Dignity Act, as some members of Congress would like to do.
Depriving terminally ill adults in D.C. the option of medical aid-in-dying would not only condemn many to unnecessary suffering, but provide an unwarranted precedent for further intrusions on states with similar laws.
Last December, the D.C. council voted to allow qualifying, terminally ill district residents, in consultation with physicians, to receive end-of-life medication if they so choose. Ever since, some House Republicans have sought to block implementation of the law, relying chiefly on fear-mongering to undermine personal choice and the sovereignty of the district.
Within 30 days of the law’s approval, efforts were under way to block the law, with a House resolution garnering 69 Republican cosponsors. While that measure failed to advance, on July 13, the House Appropriations Committee voted 28-24 in favor of a budget amendment introduced by Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., repealing the district’s Death with Dignity Act. Among those voting in favor of the amendment was Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona.
In offering his amendment, Harris downplayed the numerous safeguards built into the law, dubiously claiming people from across the country would visit the nation’s capital to “come get a lethal injection.” The end-of-life medications used across the country are taken orally and lethal injections are expressly prohibited under the D.C. law.
The D.C. law, modeled after Oregon’s 20-year-old law and similar to California’s own End of Life Option Act, imposes numerous safeguards meant to ensure that medical aid-in-dying is a voluntary, carefully considered decision.
The D.C. law limits access to district residents who are at least 18 years old, are under the care of a district-licensed physician and have a terminal illness expected to result in death within six months. Individuals who meet these narrow criteria must then make two oral requests, 15 days apart, to their treating physician. Between the two oral requests, individuals must also submit a written request in the presence of two independent witnesses who can attest the patient isn’t making their decision under duress and is proceeding with a sound mind. These witnesses cannot be a relative of the patient or inherit the patient’s estate.
Under the law, the patient’s treating physician is required to inform the patient of alternatives to taking…