The District of Columbia is taking steps to become the third diversely populated U.S. jurisdiction, and the seventh jurisdiction in the U.S., to authorize medical aid in dying for terminally ill patients.
Medical aid in dying is currently authorized in five other states, with a combined 30-plus years of experience with the practice: Oregon (1997), Washington (2008), Montana (2009), Vermont (2013), and California (October 2015).
Advocates of medical aid in dying are celebrating this victory. The bill gathered extensive support from the African-American community, with five out of six African-American D.C. council members voting in favor of the legislation after the D.C. Commission on Aging endorsed the act.
“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,” Mary Cheh, a D.C. council member from Ward 3, said in a press release.
“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,” she said.
Donna Smith, D.C. field and legislative manager for Compassion & Choices, described the ballot victory as historic because “D.C. is the largest and most diversely populated East Coast jurisdiction to authorize medical aid in dying.”
“It is a big win for people of every color who live in our nation’s capital, especially African-Americans like me,” she added. “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 legislation would give mentally capable, terminally ill adult patients with six months or less to live the option of being given a specific prescription medication that would help them die peacefully in their sleep, rather than enduring an uncertain additional period of suffering.
“No one should have to die in agony like my husband, Sean, did from HIV-exacerbated mesothelioma,” said Michael Kaplan, who’s been an HIV patient since 1992 and a type 1 diabetes patient since 1980. Kaplan was married to 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,” Kaplan added.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s pledge to not issue a veto on Nov. 1 was important for the decision. Under the D.C. legislative process, the bill will go through the Office of the Mayor before it goes to Congress for review.
About 67 percent of Washington, D.C. residents support the Death and Dignity Act, according to a Lake Research poll from July 2015.
Associations like the American Medical Women’s Association, the American Academy of Hospice & Palliative Medicine, the American Academy of Legal Medicine, the American Medical Student Association, and the American Public Health Association are part of an increasing number of organizations in the U.S. that have endorsed or taken a neutral position on medical aid in dying.