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U.S. House votes to overturn Washington, D.C.’s assisted suicide law

Last December, assisted suicide became legal in Washington, D.C. — but it was not without controversy. There was strong opposition from the African-American community in Washington, D.C., and the mayor’s own health director publicly opposed the bill. But it made no difference; Mayor Muriel Bowser quietly signed the bill into law, without releasing a statement.

In February, Republicans mounted an attempt to overturn the law. It was unsuccessful, as Republicans in the Senate refused to take action, and the law officially went into effect on February 18th. But all has not been lost; a second effort to overturn the law has been spearheaded by Maryland Rep. Andy Harris. And last week, the House of Representatives officially voted to overturn the law.

READ: New England Journal of Medicine study: People don’t seek assisted suicide to prevent pain

The vote was included as part of a spending bill this time. Harris, who is a physician, is deeply opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide and argued that Congress has a responsibility to throw out the law. “Encouraging patients to commit suicide deprives them of the opportunity to potentially be cured by new treatments that could ameliorate their condition and even add years to their lives, if not cure them completely,” he said. “Congress has the authority — and the responsibility — to oversee the operations of Washington D.C., and the Death with Dignity Act was a well-intentioned but misguided policy that must be reversed.”

Multiple doctors have spoken out against legalizing assisted suicide, which continues to grow in popularity across the country. Disability advocacy groups likewise have opposed assisted suicide’s legalization, rightly recognizing that it puts disabled Americans at risk.

Washington, D.C.’s assisted suicide law also is rife with potential abuses:

  1. It is the doctor who chooses if the patient is eligible for assisted suicide, meaning that it does not — as assisted suicide advocates claim — increase patient autonomy.
  2. It does not mandate a psychological exam before the request is granted, so there are no safeguards against a person suffering from mental illness or a mental health disorder, such as depression, from being a candidate.
  3. It allows insurance companies or government entities to decide whether they should cover a patient’s more expensive treatment, such as chemotherapy, or the far less expensive assisted suicide drugs.
  4. Most disturbing of all, the law allows the heir to the patient’s estate to be present during the request for assisted suicide, and also to pick up the fatal drugs for the patient. This clearly encourages coercion.

Congress has another chance to do the right thing and overturn this terrible law. Be sure to contact your elected officials and tell them that Washington, D.C.’s assisted suicide law must be repealed.

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