(Washington, D.C. – Nov. 15, 2016) The District of Columbia is poised to become the seventh jurisdiction in the U.S. where medical aid in dying is authorized for terminally ill residents after the D.C Council passed the D.C. Death with Dignity Act by a veto-proof 11-2 margin. The vote follows recent enactment of similar laws – in Colorado last Tuesday (Nov. 8) and California in Oct. 2015 – and demonstrates strong public support across jurisdictions of diverse sizes, demographics and locations.
Advocates of medical aid in dying today celebrated their hard-fought campaign to bring this end-of-life care option to the diverse residents across D.C. The bill garnered widespread support within the African-American community with five of the six African-American council members supporting the legislation in the 11-2 vote count after the predominantly African-American D.C. Commission on Aging endorsed it.
“I want to thank Compassion & Choices, which organized our D.C. grassroots supporters, without whom we could not have passed this bill. They articulated the urgent need for terminally ill residents to have the end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying,” said bill author Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3). “This law is designed to keep the government from taking away people’s freedom and liberty to make these fundamentally personal decisions in consultation with their family, physician and spiritual advisors.”
“This is a historic victory because D.C. is the largest and most diversely populated East Coast jurisdiction to authorize medical aid in dying,” said Donna Smith, D.C. field and legislative manager for Compassion & Choices. “It is a big win for people of every color who live in our nation’s capital, especially African-Americans like me. Following the passage of medical aid-in-dying laws in California last year and in Colorado last week, these two states and D.C. have demonstrated the diverse, popular support across our nation for this option to die peacefully.”
The D.C. legislation, modeled after laws in six states, would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they could decide to take to stop unbearable suffering and die peacefully in their sleep.
When the Council initially approved the bill on Nov. 1 by the same 11-2 margin, Mayor Muriel Bowser pledged, “I will not be issuing a veto.” According the D.C. legislative process, after it goes through the Office of the Mayor, the bill will be transmitted to Congress for review. Two-thirds of D.C. residents (67%) support giving terminally ill adults the option of medical aid in dying, according to a July 2015 Lake Research poll.
Today’s vote comes after a vote last Tuesday (Nov. 8), in which 65 percent of Coloradans approved a ballot initiative to authorize this end-of-life care option. Medical aid in dying is currently authorized in five other states with a combined 30+ years of experience with the practice: Oregon (enacted in 1997), Washington (enacted in 2008), Montana (enacted via state Supreme Court ruling in 2009), Vermont (enacted in 2013) and California (enacted in Oct. 2015).
“I have three cancer diagnoses,” said Dr. Omega Silva, the first woman president of the Howard University Medical Alumni Association and 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 some dying people suffer unbearably, even if they have the best spiritual support, hospice and palliative care.”
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 because it relieves intolerable suffering and there is no evidence of abuse or coercion involving this practice. 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.
“No one should have to die in agony like my husband, Sean, did from HIV-exacerbated mesothelioma,” said Michael Kaplan, who has lived with HIV since 1992 and Type 1 diabetes since 1980, and was the husband of late reality-TV star Sean Sasser, an HIV activist. “I urge Congress to respect the will of the people and allow this bill to become law.”
Compassion & Choices is the oldest nonprofit working to improve care and expand options for the end of life in the United States, with 450,000 members nationwide. For more information, visit: CompassionAndChoices.org.