Passing the district’s five-member Committee on Health and Human Services is the first hurdle for the bill, called the Death with Dignity Act. It passed by a vote of 3-2 and is expected to be voted on by the full council on October 18.
The bill is modeled on similar Oregon legislation. If passed, it will allow DC residents who are at least 18 years old, who have been diagnosed with an illness that is expected to be terminal within six months, and who have been determined to be mentally capable of making and communicating health decisions, to be prescribed aid-in-dying medication.
Patients must be able to ingest the medication themselves; it cannot be administered by a doctor or other helper. Safeguards built into the bill include that patients must make multiple written and verbal requests for aid-in-dying medication, that prescriptions and diagnoses be confirmed by second physicians and other measures intended to ensure patients are competent and not being coerced.
"For me, this is a matter of choice: to have the option to die peacefully in my own home in DC," city resident Mary Klein, who has terminal ovarian cancer, told DC's Fox News affiliate at the committee meeting. The meeting room was full, with many supporters and opponents of the bill showing up in t-shirts with slogans expressing their opinions.
The bill was endorsed by the Washington Post on October 1 in an editorial that noted its slow process through the DC Council, clearing the Health and Human Services Committee 21 months after the bill was introduced and 15 months since a public hearing was held on it.
California, Oregon, Washington state and Vermont currently have right-to-die laws, while in Montana aid-in-dying is possible with a State Supreme Court order, according to the Death with Dignity organization.
The movement, which began in the US in Oregon, with its 1994 citizens’ initiative on death with dignity, is reaching something of a crescendo now. One state began considering aid-in-dying legislation in 2014; 24 launched it in 2015, the Washington City Paper reports. According to the Washington Post, 30 states are now considering such legislation.