The District of Columbia has joined six states in the US in allowing doctors to prescribe lethal medications to terminally ill patients who want to end their lives.
Although the District of Columbia City Council voted 11-2 on 15
November to approve the "Death with Dignity Act" and Mayor Muriel Bowser
signed it into law in December, it still faced possible defeat by
The Home Rule Act of 1973 gives the US Senate and the US House of
Representatives a small window in which they have the right to overturn
Pro-life advocates and proponents for the terminally ill, the elderly
and the disabled - who vehemently reject assisted suicide, saying it
would lead to abuse and harm the city's most vulnerable populations -
had hoped Congress would act on the measure.
On 13 February, the House Oversight Committee approved a resolution
to cancel the law, but the resolution never made it to the floor for a
full House vote. Feb. 17 was the deadline for Congress to cancel the
District's law. Since the deadline passed with no action, the law went
into effect 18 February.
"A number of groups - medical associations, seniors organisations,
disability rights groups, as well as the DC Catholic Conference -
strongly advocated against DC's prescribed death legislation," the DC
Catholic Conference said in a statement after the law went into effect.
"We will continue to advocate for a respect for life at every stage -
from conception to natural death - and defend our communities' most
vulnerable, who require improved access to long-term health care, not an
inexpensive short cut to death."
When District lawmakers first approved the "Death with Dignity Act,"
the DC Catholic Conference issued a statement saying, "The bill imperils
residents particularly those who are sick, elderly, disabled and
uninsured in our communities. It allows for coercion and abuse including
third-parties administering the lethal drugs to patients who may or may
not be incapacitated and or even requesting assisted suicide."
The DC Catholic Conference, which represents the public policy
interests of the Catholic Church in the District, joined a broad based
coalition of other groups in opposing the measure.
Introduced in 2015 by Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, a member of
the Health and Human Services Committee, the Death With Dignity Act
permits a physician to legally prescribe lethal drugs to patients who
have been deemed mentally competent and who have received a terminal
diagnosis of six months or less.
Opponents said the bill is flawed because it endangers "high-risk"
populations including the elderly, the uninsured and underinsured, the
homeless, low-income individuals and those with intellectual
They also pointed out that it does not require doctors to
give patients a screening for depression before providing them with the
lethal prescription; the patient is not required to notify family
members before taking the medication; and no doctor, nurse, or legal
witness is required to be present when the lethal dose is taken.
The District now joins Vermont, Oregon, Washington state, Montana,
California and Colorado in allowing doctors to help the terminally ill
to kill themselves. Similar physician-assisted suicide laws have been
introduced and have failed in 22 states.
A bill to allow physician-assisted suicide was recently introduced in
the Maryland General Assembly, and the Maryland Catholic Conference is
among a coalition of groups opposing the legislation.
Physician-assisted suicide opponents say that Congress still has an
opportunity to cancel the law when it considers a funding package for
In the spring, during the appropriations process, federal
lawmakers can vote to defund the measure.