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House Committee Votes to Strike Down D.C. Law Legalizing Assisted Suicide

Last night, a Congressional committee voted to strike down a new law in Washington DC that would legalize assisted suicide.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee advanced H.J. Res. 27, the resolution disapproving the District of Columbia Council’s bill legalizing physician assisted suicide. The bill was advanced by a vote of 22-14 with 21 Republican Members and 1 Democratic Member voting to pass the resolution while 13 Democratic Members and 1 Republican voted against it.

During his opening statement, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) referenced the testimony of the Director of the DC Department of Health, LaQuandra Nesbitt, who opposed DC’s legalization of assisted suicide saying the bill “catapults the District into unchartered territories we are not yet prepared to navigate.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) referenced an op-ed on the topic co-authored by the sponsor of H.J. Res. 27, Dr. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), and Dr. Phil Roe (R-TN).

On December 19, 2016, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed “The Death with Dignity Act of 2015” (Act 21-577), which would legalize assisted suicide in the nation’s capital. The bill allows an adult patient to request and receive from a physician a lethal prescription to end his or her own life.

But to nullify the District of Columbia assisted suicide law, H.J. Res. 27/ S. J. Res. 4 will have to be acted on soon.

The act was transmitted to Congress on January 6, 2017 for a Congressional review period of 30 days. The law will go into effect at the expiration of the 30 day period (February 17) unless a joint resolution of disapproval is enacted. Resolutions of disapproval are one mechanism Congress has for rescinding laws passed by the District of Columbia.

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The pro-life group National Right to Life urged members of Congress to vote for the resolution:

Pro-lifers have long vigorously opposed legalizing assisted suicide. Five states (California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont) permit the dangerous practice of allowing physicians to write lethal prescriptions to certain groups of persons living with serious illness.

Where legal, as is the case with the D.C. Council action, assisted suicide laws permit insurance companies to pay for the lethal doses. Moreover, nothing in the law prevents insurance companies from promoting the relatively inexpensive drugs.

Apart from the danger of permitting insurers to recommend suicide drugs to seriously ill patients, the Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act of 1997, Pub. L. No. 105-12 (Apr. 30, 1997), which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, strictly forbids the District from using funds for purposes related to assisted suicide.

While the D.C. Council bill was promoted as “merely” providing another end of life “option,” this law can become a vehicle to push the medically vulnerable into an early death.

The legal definition of terminal illness used in D.C. will sweep in vast groups of people who could otherwise live for many years with continued treatment. Additionally, there is no requirement that patients be screened for depression or other treatable mental illness.

More detailed discussion of the threat to life that assisted suicide poses can be found at www.nrlc.org/medethics/directkilling.

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