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    Washington DC Moves One Step Closer to Physician-Assisted Suicide

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    Washington, DC, may be joining the five states that currently allow physician-assisted suicide -- after the DC Council overwhelmingly approved preliminary legislation on Tuesday.

    The Death with Dignity Act would authorize doctors to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients who are believed to have six months or less to live. It passed easily with an overwhelming 11-2 vote.

    One of the members of the council who voted against the bill, Democrat Yvette Alexander argued that the bill does not lay our sufficient safeguards against coercion or abuse by medical officials or family members. She also expressed concerns over a lack of oversight during administration of life-ending drugs.

    “These unresolved concerns include the coercion or undue influence on the elderly, disabled or poor; lack of oversight during the administration of the drug; the difficulty in predicting an individual’s final six-month window to live; the pressure on physicians to engage in behavior in contradiction to the Hippocratic oath; and finally, the creation of greater mistrust between the medical community and residents,” Alexander argued during deliberations.

    Many opponents of the bill have worried that lower-income and elderly residents may be pressured to end their lives, rather than undergo expensive treatments that may burden their families.

    Opponents include a group of DC physicians, who have written to the Council to express their concerns over the fact that the bill “does not include a requirement that patients seeking assisted suicide first receive a psychological evaluation.” They wrote that the law “would betray our healing mission enshrined by the Hippocratic Tradition which states, ‘ I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel. I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.’”

    “We do not regularly engage in the city’s legislative process, but we must do so now with one voice against proposed legislation that would legalize physician assisted suicide,” the doctors continued. “This bill is dangerous, lacks any true safeguards, and is the wrong fit for D.C. residents.”

    Democrat Mary M. Cheh, who sponsored the bill, has argued that those concerns are baseless.

    “In this context, the injunction to do no harm really means to respect an imminently dying person’s last wish for control, for peace, to respect the choice to die with family and friends at home in tranquil circumstances,” Ms. Cheh argued.

    She also brushed off any concerns people have about the act being abused.

    “Now some say under this bill there will be coercion — vulnerable people will be hastened to their death, it will cut off lifesaving care, insurance coverage,” she said. “These are baseless fears, and no matter how earnestly they may be held, no matter how often they may be repeated, they are without foundation. There are sturdy protections in this bill against the parade of horribles that have been trotted out.”

    According to the bill, patients must spend two weeks consulting with two doctors before they can obtain the suicide medications. Two witnesses will also be required to be present to assure that the patient is making the decision voluntarily.

    The DC Council has to vote one more time before the Death With Dignity Act will be sent to the mayor for approval, but it seems unlikely that it will not once again pass.

    Mayor Muriel Bowser stated on Wednesday that she will not be issuing a veto when she receives it.

    "I expect with the overwhelming vote in the Council that death with dignity is going to become law," Bowser said. "I will not be issuing a veto."

    "I’m going to see what the Council does with it," she said. "We had them make some adjustments to the bill. It's not an easy issue, but I think the will of the councilmembers is pretty clear."

    Related:

    The Assisted Suicide Debate
    Canada Court Reportedly Permits Physician-Assisted Suicide
    Prominent Britons Press Government to Legalize Assisted Suicide: Reports
    Scotland Set to Introduce Most ‘Robust’ Assisted Suicide Legislation
    Row over tv film of assisted suicide
    Tags:
    Assisted Suicide, Death With Dignity Act, Muriel Bowser, Mary M. Cheh, DC Council, Washington, DC
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