DC Dying With Dignity Law Died To Retro Republican Religious Fervor

By Donald A. Collins | 23 February 2017
Church and State

(Photo: Martin Austermuhle / WAMU)

On Friday, February 17, 2017 with no ceremony or seeming concern, the retro Republican dominated House of Representatives failed to overrule US House of Representative’s Committee’s action on the recent DC City Council’s enactment of a Death with Dignity Act by letting that Committee’s action stand.

As I noted in my 2/14/17 op ed, let me again strongly dispute calling the easing of a dying person’s death a SUICIDE. It is not suicide, it is mercy and compassion only given with the dying person’s permission since he or she must self administer the medicine once a doctor panel gives its okay.

At almost 86, death is a subject which my mind cannot help at least daily tangentially remembering will happen in the not too distant future. After all, my parents didn’t clear their 80’s and how they expired is something I recall vividly. My mother had a stroke which was quickly fatal, so she was lucky. My father died slowly of prostate cancer in 1982, which was inoperable before Dr. Walsh at Johns Hopkins perfected his surgical technique to avoid the bleeding that earlier had proved such a killer. Did my father contemplate “death assistance”? Don’t think so, as somehow, despite the obvious surge of his cancer, he somehow never intimated getting help. So, at the end, as my sister and I watched at his bedside at 2 AM, he choked to death. It must have been very difficult for him as it certainly was for his two children to watch while his caring doctor did nothing to stop his gasping, railing death throes which seemed to go on for a long time.

Bruce Levine of Takoma Park, Maryland wrote in his 2/14/17 Washington Post letter, “Congressional moves to block the District’s Death with Dignity Act not only tread on home rule, but also violate the religious rights of DC residents.”

I would agree with the home rule point, but mourn the fact that this retro reaction by US House of Representatives is based on the religious values!! The DWD Act was for me not at all a religious matter, it was a secular law beamed at offering dying residents a safe, less painful exit, one which they could have opted to exercise or not.

To repeat, this law was clearly a purely secular law to meet a widespread secular need mainly for the elderly. In so exercising the option as citizens of 6 other states can now do, such deaths would not be considered suicides and thus life insurance policies would not, as I understand the law, be invalidated by insurance companies.

However, while I disagree with what Mr. Levine wrote about the law violating others religious rights in his Post letter, the remainder of his letter makes several good points.

“We are all mortals. If we are lucky, we remain in good health into old age, die painlessly and without warning.” Here I have to suggest that even though my favorite uncle set a high standard for our family by dying at an apparently comfortable old age of 82 of a massive, rapid heart attack sipping his favorite red wine, such exits are rare. As I said at the time, “Such an exit makes one’s mouth water!!” Levine quickly notes in his next sentence, “but many of us will suffer long, painful declines, or dehumanizing loss of control over our lives before we die.”

To me such a loss of control is perhaps my greatest detestation! Somehow, since there is no way to forecast such events, that aspect is properly not covered in the Dying with Dignity law since to get such an unfortunate medical surprise taken care of other than by the dying person would force the present DWD law advocates to add the politically unwinnable feature of allowing a provider to help the dying die.

As Levine notes, “What could be more personal than how we face our own deaths? For some people who are suffering and have no hope of recovery, death with dignity may be a rational choice.”

Yes, indeed, that is very obvious and main reason for this sensible legislation and why 6 states have already approved some version of Oregon’s model law, in Oregon’s case almost 20 years ago.

Levine then says, “Others may find the idea of taking their own life unacceptable under any circumstances. It is a matter of personal philosophy and often of religious faith.” Ok, just like no one forces anyone in the USA to have an abortion, or drink liquor, or snort cocaine.

In his final paragraph, Levine finally gets down to the nub of his argument. He begins by saying, “It is none of the government’s business, if people who are dying want help passing in comfort, it presents no threat to anyone or in society as a whole.” Well, it certainly must be government’s business. It has turned out that such laws were and are sorely needed and state governments were required to act to make clear and lawful that MD participation could ease the end of life without being dubbed suicides or putting doctors in an illegal position.

Again, Levine leaps to statements which require clarification when he proclaims, “In the absence of any public interest to be served, Congress has no right to impose a particular set of religious or philosophical beliefs on the dying.” But of course that is exactly what the US House of Representatives did on Friday, February 17th when it failed to overturn that onerous Committee action lead by Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz.

Levine closes by saying “It is a question of freedom of belief and if Congress overturns the Death with Dignity Act, the District should make that argument in court.”

Chaffetz’s position as reported by the Post in its 2/15/17 article about his “rights” certainly should anger most voters here and around the US.

That article further states,

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D). (Photo: Katherine Frey / The Washington Post)

In December, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Death with Dignity Act, which legalized assisted suicide in the district and gave doctors the ability to offer lethal medication to individuals who are terminally ill and will die within six months.

Under the Constitution, however, Congress has the authority to block legislation passed by DC’s council. On Monday, the House Oversight Committee, led by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, voted 22-14 to disapprove of the law. The next step is to pass a resolution between the full House and Senate and send the measure to President Donald Trump.

“I urge Chairman Chaffetz to allow DC officials to govern DC — and focus on the more pressing issues facing our country. Just as he continues to look out for the self determination of the residents of Utah, I’d expect the chairman to let us be governed according to our DC values,” Bowser said in a statement Monday.

“This is yet another attempt by this House committee to trample the autonomy of the DC government and undermine our local control granted through Home Rule,” Bowser said.

When asked for comment, Chaffetz’s spokesperson pointed to a January op-ed in The Washington Post in which the Utah congressman wrote, “Those who argue that the D.C. Council, in its capacity as the local government, has spoken for the citizens of the District ignore a central and crucial fact: The awesome responsibility of acting as the state for the citizens of the District lies not in the hands of a local government, but with Congress.”

He continued: “While the Home Rule Act of 1973 delegated to the District the ability to carry out some legislative functions and the authority to form a local government, the act reserved the role of state for Congress alone, and Congress has rightfully provided itself with the ability to review all legislation passed by the District.”

The new proposed Justice of the US Supreme Court has written widely opposing these state laws. Could that Court bring down the presently enacted DWD laws? Or even Roe versus Wade, in utter contravention of the long held virtue embodied in the legal term Stare Decicis.

Folks, if there was ever a clear violation of our precious separation of church and state principles, this is an egregious case. Believe me, the zealots will pay a political price down the road. For example, would voters of any of the 6 states which have DWD laws feel comfortable voting for people with such retro views. Hope not. Can DC repass its DWD Act? Hope so.

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013

By Donald A. Collins
Publisher: Church and State Press (July 30, 2014)
ASIN: B00MA40TVE
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DC Assisted Suicide Law

Mayor Bowser Joins Congresswoman Norton to Defend Death with Dignity Act, 1/31/17

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