For nearly two years, the elected officials and residents of the District of Columbia debated the D.C. Death with Dignity Act as an option for terminally ill adults to peacefully end unbearable suffering at the end of life. They held or participated in hearings, rallies, protests and town halls, and wrote to their local papers and councilmembers. After this democratic process, the D.C. Council passed the law by an 11-2 vote last November, and it went into effect July 17. Six states through either ballot initiatives, legislation or the courts have authorized medical aid-in-dying, including California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
Despite widespread support for medical aid in dying across the nation and in the District, congressional opponents have made two attempts to repeal the D.C. Death with Dignity Act. Their latest power grab is an amendment, passed by the House Appropriations Committee and introduced by U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), attempting to revoke the law. Three members of Congress from states that passed aid-in-dying laws voted against an option their constituents already have access to: Ken Calvert (R-CA), David Valadao (R-CA) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA). The residents and representatives of all authorized states should be alarmed about this congressional attack — and the implication that Congress has the right to interfere with medical aid-in-dying laws across the country.
If this amendment succeeds, it could encourage opponents to seek a nationwide ban of medical aid in dying despite the combined 40 years of successful experience with the practice in the United States. This federal intrusion isn’t unprecedented: Congress has attempted to prohibit medical aid in dying by banning the use of federally controlled substances for this purpose by introducing the Legal Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 1998 and the Pain Relief Promotion Act of 1999. The constituents from every state where medical aid in dying is authorized must fight back against this abuse of power, not only for D.C. residents, but to ensure their own right to access this end-of-life option should they want it someday.