DC Council Approves Death with Dignity Act by Veto Proof Margin

Compassion & Choices DC volunteer advocates Don Collins and Sally Epstein

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Washington, DC – Advocates for the DC Death with Dignity Act praised the DC Council for approving the popular legislation today (November 1) by a vote of 11-2, a veto proof margin. The bill will be placed on the agenda for a second and final vote at the next Council legislative meeting that takes place at least 14 days later (i.e., Nov. 15), according to the DC Legislative Process.

The legislation would give terminally ill adults with fewer than six months to live the end-of-life care option of obtaining a doctor’s prescription for medication they could decide to take to stop unbearable suffering by dying peacefully in their sleep.

“This bill allows someone who is on death’s doorstep the option to choose a peaceful death – to decide in one’s final moments, when the illness is terminal and death is imminent, how he or she will face the end,” said Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), the bill author. “It is a choice among many one could make, and, as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor noted, death will be different for each of us. But we should respect and honor this choice for those who want it. I know how wrenching and difficult this vote was and I am deeply grateful to my colleagues for supporting the bill.”

Two out of three (67%) of DC residents support the right of terminally ill adults with less than six months to live to legally obtain medication to shorten their dying process, according to a July 2015 Lake Research poll.

“As a woman with three cancer diagnoses, I would want medical aid in dying as an option for myself, if the times comes when my suffering becomes too much to bear,” said Dr. Omega Silva, who was the first woman president of the Howard University Medical Alumni Association and is a former president of the American Medical Women’s Association, which supports medical aid in dying. “As an internist and endocrinologist for 45 years, I know from experience that sometimes it is the only option to gently and quickly end a prolonged and agonizing dying process.’”

A growing number of national organizations representing healthcare professionals have endorsed or taken a neutral position on medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option for mentally capable, terminally ill adults. In addition to the American Medical Women’s Association, they include the American Academy of Hospice & Palliative Medicine, American Academy of Legal Medicine, American Medical Student Association, and American Public Health Association.

Medical aid in dying is currently authorized in five states with a combined 30+ years of experience with this end of life care option: Oregon (since 1998), Washington (since 2009), Montana (since 2010), Vermont (since 2013) and California (since June 2016). There is not a single documented case of abuse or coercion involving the practice in these five states.

“I am grateful for the DC Council’s vote today because no one should have to die in agony like my husband Sean did,” said Michael Kaplan, who has lived with HIV since 1992 and Type 1 diabetes since 1980 and was the husband of the late TV reality star Sean Sasser, who was an HIV activist. “I plead with council members to approve it again on final passage and for Mayor Bowser to promptly sign it into law.”

“I am thankful the D.C Council was able to see past opponents’ false claims that people with disabilities like me do not support this option,” said Compassion & Choices Political Director Charmaine Manansala, who has had multiple sclerosis for 15 years that significantly limits her mobility. “Polling shows people with disabilities want the same autonomy to make this end-of life care decision as any other demographic group.”

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