Update: D.C. Assisted Suicide Law

Update to the update: the law has gone into effect. The House did not vote on the measure to block it, and the Senate version never left committee (both chambers would have needed to vote to block the bill by Friday, February 17).

The organization that spearheaded the campaign for this law released a statement that in part urged residents of D.C. to be sure to request lethal medications as soon as possible. The etymology of “compassion” is to suffer together or to suffer with another. Physician-assisted suicide is the direct opposite. It is abandoning people in the midst of their suffering. This is heartbreaking.

I wrote earlier this week about efforts in Congress to block a new law allowing physician-assisted suicide in Washington, D.C. At that time it seemed possible although by no means certain that both the House and Senate could vote by the end of the week to stop it.

The Washington Post reports that such a vote by both chambers is “unlikely” to happen, which means that the time for Congress to review this new law will have expired.

Those in Congress who oppose this assisted suicide law are now forming a plan to block its implementation via the power of the purse. That is, they plan to not provide D.C. with the funds it needs to setup and run the law. This is, admittedly, a work-around. Utah’s Rep. Jason Chaffetz is leading the charge on this, and according to the Post, he “has said . . . that he thinks Congress should intervene, no matter what form that action takes.”

We cannot help but be disappointed to see this law go into effect. As we have repeatedly argued, assisted suicide is bad public policy. A study published in the Michigan Law Review, for example, found that in Oregon, guidelines were often not followed by doctors, state oversight failed to “collect the information it [the state] would need to effectively monitor the law, and in its actions and publications [the state] acts as the defender of the law rather than as the protector of the welfare of terminally ill patients.” In addition, overall suicide rates have risen sharply in Oregon since the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. (Herbert Hendin and Kathleen Foley, “Physician-Assisted Suicide in Oregon: A Medical Perspective,” Michigan Law Review, Vol. 106, No. 8 (June 2008), pp. 1625–1626.)

At a more basic level, of course, physician assisted suicide is a violation of the Hippocratic Oath and the commitment to do no harm. Legalization of assisted suicide challenges the integrity of medicine as well as the equality of human life. It corrupts medicine, undermines the viability of suicide prevention efforts by sending a mixed societal message, and threatens the lives and equal societal status of the weakest and most vulnerable among us.

The proper and compassionate approach to suicidal desire—whatever its cause—is compassionate intervention and prevention, not facilitation.

We are watching the situation in D.C. closely, and will bring you updates as it develops.

Image: United States government work via Flickr

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