D.C.’s assisted suicide law goes into effect despite efforts to stop it

Assisted suicide injection needle

Despite efforts by Republicans in the House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.’s assisted suicide law was not able to be overturned by Congress. It officially took effect on Saturday.

On January 6th, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Rep. Brad Wenstrup introduced a resolution that would overturn the law. Republicans seeking to block assisted suicide from becoming legal had a 30-day legislative review period to get the resolution passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees D.C. affairs, joined Lankford and Wenstrup in their opposition, and this week, a House committee voted in favor of overturning the law. But that was where the effort ended.

Chaffetz was unable to rally Republicans in the Senate, with Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, refusing to take on the resolution. Therefore, at midnight on February 18th, assisted suicide officially became legal in Washington, D.C., making it the seventh jurisdiction in the United States to do so.

Compassion & Choices, the nation’s largest assisted suicide advocacy organization, lobbied hard for the D.C. bill to be passed. “The advocacy of D.C. residents and local officials is what won this victory,” Jessica Grennan, national director for political affairs and advocacy, said in a statement. “Democracy conquered the personal mindsets of paternalistic politicians whose opinions should not get in the way of people getting the medical relief they want and need.”

Of course, assisted suicide does not give people “medical relief” — it kills them. Like abortion advocates, assisted suicide lobbyists seem eager to conflate death with health care, likely because it makes it more palatable to people who otherwise would not be as likely to support it.

While Compassion & Choices fought hard to see the D.C. bill signed into law, it was fiercely opposed by D.C. residents, and by black residents in particular, who rightly feared that it would target vulnerable people like the elderly, the poor, and minorities. The outcry from D.C. residents could be why Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser quietly signed the bill into law without calling much attention to it. She refused to make a statement about her decision to approve the legislation, which even her own health director opposed.

And indeed, the law has a number of fundamental flaws. While its proponents claim that it will increase patient autonomy, it is the doctor who chooses if the patient is eligible for assisted suicide, meaning that real and full autonomy does not actually exist. The law also does not require a psychological exam before the assisted suicide is approved, meaning that people suffering from mental illness or mental health disorders, like depression, can be candidates for assisted suicide. The dangers of assisted suicide for treatable conditions like depression have already been seen in Europe.

The D.C. law also allows insurance companies or government entities to decide if a patient’s treatment — like chemotherapy to save their life — will be covered, as opposed to the far less expensive assisted suicide drugs. In California and Oregon, we have already seen cases of patients being denied treatment for their illnesses, while they are being told insurance will pay for drugs so they can commit suicide. Lastly, and most disturbing, the law encourages coercion, by allowing the heir to the patient’s estate to not only be present for the patient’s request for assisted suicide, but also to pick up the fatal drugs for the patient.

It is truly a tragedy that this bill will be allowed to stand. Assisted suicide is not death with dignity. Instead, it preys on the fears of people facing terminal illnesses, disabilities, or other difficult life circumstances, with the most vulnerable often becoming victims. There is nothing dignified in agreeing with someone when they argue that their life is no longer worth living.

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