Lawmakers are likely to pass a bill legalizing assisted suicide for terminally ill patients in Washington, D.C., but key hurdles for the bill remain.
The “right to die” bill passed an initial vote in the D.C. Council’s Health and Human Services Committee Oct. 5 and will go before the full Council for a vote Tuesday. Despite fears among some council members over the impact on low-income individuals, the D.C. Council is expected to pass the legislation.
The bill allows terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to request a prescription for lethal medication, reports The Washington Post.
The Death With Dignity Act of 2016, sponsored by Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh, bars anyone younger than 18 from requesting the medication. Many in the community are concerned the law will pressure poor individuals with limited health care options into requesting the medication.
“I watch hundreds of people come and go at the oncologist’s office,” Pamela Wandix, a resident fighting esophageal cancer, told The Washington Post. “They are not trying to give up. They want to live. We believe in God. That’s not even a question. I’m fighting for my life, and my God is going to show me how.”
Critics of the legislation point to countries where assisted suicide is legal and to the growing number of people using it who do not have terminal illnesses. Assisted suicide in the Netherlands has been legal since 2002, and an increasing number of patients battling mental illness have used the option.
Fifty-six people with mental illness used assisted suicide in the Netherlands in 2015, up from just two people the year before.
An unidentified woman in her twenties grabbed global headlines after psychiatrists and doctors gave her a lethal injection for post traumatic stress disorder and chronic depression stemming from a sexual assault.
A majority of council members are expected to vote in favor of the bill, but, the council will still have to vote on it two more times before the end of the year. Mayor Muriel Bowser will then have to sign it, which is no guarantee considering her health director came out against it.
“If a dying person wishes to peacefully end his or her life rather than endure prolonged pain and suffering, we should not stand in their way,” Cheh argued at an Oct. 6 committee hearing. “In the face of imminent death, meeting a patient’s individual needs and wishes compassionately should be our top priority.”
Council members Brianne Nadeau and Yvette Alexander stood in opposition to the Death With Dignity Act in the slim 3-2 committee vote over concerns on the impact on low income patients.
“Those with least access to quality health care are most likely to get a late-stage terminal diagnosis,” Nadeau said at the hearing. “They’re least likely to have coverage for expensive interventions. I believe they’ll also be most likely to consider this option as their best option, even if it’s not.”
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