A congressional committee has taken the first step in a fast-track effort to prevent the legalization of physician-assisted suicide in the nation’s capital.
The House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 22-14 Feb. 13 to disapprove of the District of Columbia’s Death With Dignity Act. The measure – which the D.C. Council passed in November and Mayor Muriel Bowser signed in December – would authorize doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to people who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses and supposedly have less than six months to live.
Congress must act swiftly if it is to take the unusual step of ifying a D.C. law under its authority to review the district’s actions. Both the House and Senate must pass House Joint Resolution 27 and President Trump sign it by Feb. 17, the final day of the 30-day review period, according to the D.C. Council. Such a scenario appears unlikely.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore thanked the House committee and called for Congress to work swiftly.
“I urge Congress to take the necessary action to get this to the president’s desk this week, and my prayer is that ours would be a generation that stands and fights for life – not only in D.C., but throughout our country,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“Assisted suicide has nothing to do with dignity,” Moore told Baptist Press in written comments. “It turns human life and death into marketable goods and undermines the inherent worth of every person, regardless of age, health or mental ability.”
Messengers to the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention meeting adopted a resolution affirming “the dignity and sanctity of human life at all stages of development, from conception to natural death.” The resolution called on churches and Christians “to care for the elderly among us, to show them honor and dignity, and to prayerfully support and counsel those who are providing end-of-life care for the aged, the terminally ill and the chronically infirmed.”
The D.C. law is the latest example of the spread of legalized assisted suicide in the country. Colorado became the sixth state to approve the practice when voters passed an initiative in November. The other five states with legal assisted suicide are California, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
A coalition of disability rights organizations, including Not Dead Yet, explained its opposition to the legalization of assisted suicide in a statement released the day of the House committee’s vote.
“When assisted suicide is legal, it’s the cheapest treatment available – an attractive option in our profit-driven healthcare system,” the disability rights groups said Feb. 13.
Some Americans with terminal illnesses have reported Medicaid and/or their insurance companies have informed them they will pay for a lethal prescription but not drugs to treat their afflictions.
Not Dead Yet and the other coalition members also said the safeguards touted by assisted-suicide proponents “turn out to be truly hollow.”
“Assisted suicide is a prescription for abuse: an heir or abusive caregiver can steer someone towards assisted suicide, witness the request, pick up the lethal dose, and in the end, even administer the drug – no witnesses are required at the death, so who would know?” they said. “Many other pressures exist that can cause people with compromised health to hasten their death.”
Assisted-suicide advocates, D.C. officials and congressional supporters of the district’s home rule criticized the House committee’s action.
The committee “has sent a signal to D.C. residents that Congress has zero respect or concern for their will or the will of their elected officials,” Bowser said in a written statement. The mayor called it an effort “to trample the autonomy of the D.C. Government and undermine our local control. …”
The House committee’s vote broke down nearly along party lines. One Democrat, Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, joined 21 Republicans in voting for the disapproval measure. One GOP member, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, agreed with 13 Democrats in voting against the proposal.
The Death With Dignity Act requires a D.C. resident who is a terminally ill patient and at least 18 years old to make two oral requests, as well as one written request, of a doctor for a lethal prescription. The written request must have two witnesses who affirm the patient is acting voluntarily. Two physicians must agree with granting the prescription. The patient is required to self-administer the prescription.
Under the bill, a doctor is not required to refer a patient seeking assisted suicide to a counselor, although he may do so if he questions whether a patient is suffering depression or a disorder.
Not only conservative religious and disability rights organizations oppose assisted suicide’s legalization, but health care associations – such as the American Medical Association and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization – do so as well.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)