Good News, DC Dying With Dignity Law Takes Effect

By Donald A. Collins | 12 March 2017
Church and State

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My March 2nd OP ED which hoped for the DC Dying with Dignity Law could survive. Apparently no Congressional challenge to Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz’s Committee’s attack could be mounted as there seem to be other issues facing Congress at this point! None did. At my age, this was not just an academic exercise but a fervent wish for having the option this DC law affords its citizens.

As we learn from Compassion and Choices’ press release:

The District of Columbia’s medical aid-in-dying bill, the D.C. Death with Dignity Act, took effect Feb. 18 when opponents failed to get the support necessary in Congress to stop the bill from becoming law.

The Death with Dignity Act was transmitted by the D.C. Council to the House and Senate on Jan. 6 for a 30-legislative-day review period under the Home Rule Act. On February 13, Compassion & Choices blasted the House Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) Committee for voting 22-14 to advance a disapproval resolution, H.J. Res. 27, to overturn the D.C. Death with Dignity Act.

“It is a dangerous path for Congress to interfere with the democratic process in setting local policy in the District of Columbia, and it clearly contradicts the D.C. Home Rule Act’s Statement of Purposes,” said Compassion & Choices National Director of Political Affairs and Advocacy Jessica Grennan. H.J. Res 27 stalled without a floor vote in either House.

Though Congress could still vote to overturn the law or try to defund it, overriding D.C.’s laws becomes more difficult after they go into effect. Grennan explained: “The advocacy of D.C. residents and local officials is what won this victory. Democracy conquered the personal mindsets of paternalistic politicians whose opinions should not get in the way of people getting the medical relief they want and need.

“We will continue to monitor Congress for attacks on D.C. or any of the six other states where medical aid in dying is authorized. Terminally ill patients can now legally get medical aid in dying in the District of Columbia. Doctors may now prescribe appropriate medications under the law without fear of prosecution.”

D.C. residents support medical aid in dying by a 2-1 margin, according to a July 2015 Lake Research poll. D.C. residents’ elected officials, the D.C. Council, overwhelmingly voted to pass the legislation by an 11-2 margin, and yet the OGR Committee proceeded to pass the resolution after refusing to hold a single hearing to listen to their perspectives.

We do remain concerned, however, not just about the stability of D.C.’s law but all similar laws around the country. Despite strong and growing public demand for fuller end-of-life options throughout America, the D.C. legislation has catapulted the issue of medical aid in dying onto the federal agenda at a time when a hostile Congress has the power to enact a congressional ban on aid in dying nationwide — even criminalizing it in states that have long authorized it. Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who moved the legislation to overturn D.C.’s law, has been asked to introduce legislation that would invalidate all states’ ability to authorize the practice. Our only hope after that would lie with the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the odds there are stacked against us. President Trump has nominated Neil Gorsuch, a federal judge in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, who authored and published a book detailing his opposition to medical aid in dying and offering specific cases that could result in the invalidation of state medical aid in dying laws. Fighting this egregious dismissal of hard-won citizens’ rights and personal autonomy is of paramount importance.

Nearby states of Maryland and Virginia are not yet on board, which must make their citizens envious that their leaders are so retro behaving!! Go to the C and C website to see how you can help.

C and C is not just a one trick pony. It has to fight bad legislation from being enacted. Here is one recent example:

The Montana House reversed course March 1 and rejected a bill that would have allowed the state to execute doctors for writing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication for a terminally ill adult who requests it to peacefully end their suffering. The House failed to pass the bill, HB 536, it approved the previous day by a 52 to 48 vote, after two legislators switched from yea to nay votes, resulting in a 50 to 50 tie vote, stopping the bill’s progress.

HB 536 would have overturned the 2009 Montana Supreme Court decision in a suit filed by Compassion & Choices on behalf of a terminally ill truck driver from Billings, Bob Baxter. The court ruled in the case, Baxter v. Montana, that: “… we find no indication in Montana law that physician aid in dying provided to terminally ill, mentally competent adult patients is against public policy.”

“Medical aid in dying enabled my son TJ to enjoy the last few months of his life, knowing he could peacefully end his suffering when it became unbearable,” said Bob Baxter’s daughter, Leslie Mutchler, a nurse practitioner from Billings. Her son, TJ Mutchler, is Baxter’s grandson and died Feb. 19. “Thankfully, my father’s dying gift to other terminally ill Montanans is secure for the time being. I hope and pray our lawmakers stop trying to criminalize compassionate doctors who want to honor their suffering patient’s wishes to die peacefully.”

Supporters in Montana responded to C&C’s calls to action, contacting House members and urging them to reject the bill. And last Thursday, Compassion & Choices released a video featuring TJ and Leslie Mutchler urging Montana lawmakers not to advance legislation to criminalize medical aid in dying, as they have done in every legislative session since the Baxter ruling.

As those of us concerned about personal freedom—which ironically is the mantra of the Retro Republicans as they charge viciously against women’s reproductive rights as offered by Planned Parenthood and others—we are thankful for the victories we get and know that the price of liberty remains eternal vigilance.

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.

The Real Truth about DC’s Death with Dignity Act

TJ’s Story – Compassion and Choices

Desmond Tutu at 85 pleas for assisted death option

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