Washington, December 21: District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to end their own lives with the help of a doctor. The bill, if it goes through Congress, will allow terminally ill but mentally capable patients, aged 18 years or older, to legally end their lives.
According to the bill, which the DC Council approved in November, doctors will be allowed to prescribe fatal medication to patients with less than six months to live. These patients must make two requests over a period of two weeks and ingest the drugs themselves. Mayor Bowser signed the legislation on Monday, clearing it to be sent to Capitol Hill for a 30-day review.
“Mayor Bowser did not have to sign this bill, and our opponents lobbied her to veto it,” Political Director Charmaine Manansala said in a statement. “But she took the time to listen to her constituents and Compassion & Choices, and we convinced her of the need to give terminally ill Washingtonians more options.”
The legislation is modeled after the nation’s first physician-assisted suicide law, enacted in Oregon. It will allow doctors to prescribe fatal medication to patients with less than six months to live. Patients must make two requests over a period of two weeks and ingest the drugs themselves. Bowser’s move makes the District of Columbia the sixth area in the nation to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide, following Colorado, Vermont, California, Washington and Oregon.
However, many groups say the assisted suicide legislation could lead to abuses of D.C.’s most vulnerable residents. Many in the black community have been vocal advocates against the bill, along with disability rights groups, medical groups, pro-lifers and others. The residents are worried that the bill would threaten the lives of poor and elderly residents, especially minorities.
In states where doctor-prescribed suicide is legal, sick people are being denied medical treatment coverage and offered assisted suicide instead. The D.C. bill allows insurance companies or government entities to decide whether a patient’s life-saving treatment is covered or if the far less expensive assisted suicide pills are covered instead. This is already happening in California and Oregon where assisted suicide is legal: people are told that treatment like chemotherapy, which can cost thousands of dollars and go on for years, is denied by insurance, while the $100 for a few lethal drugs is readily approved. This can easily turn into another form of coercion.
Most recently, Stephanie Packer, a California wife and mother of four who was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer, said her insurance company refused to cover the cost of her medical treatment. Also in another incidence when Packer asked her insurance company if it would cover the doctor-prescribed suicide drugs, the company told her, “Yes, we do provide that to our patients, and you would only have to pay $1.20 for the medication.”
Another concern is that a doctor or nurse is not required to be present when the person takes the drugs. According to the coalition, this leaves a wide opening for coercion; in addition, the person is without medical assistance if something goes wrong.
The bill encourages oppression. The successor to the patient’s estate someone who could benefit from their death can be there to witness the patient’s request for fatal drugs. The successor can also pick up the drugs for the patient. This means that someone who is elderly, wealthy, and suffering from a terminal illness can have their heir not only pressure them into assisted suicide, but the heir can also look over their shoulder every step of the way and make sure the person goes through with it.