D.C. assisted-suicide law gets Republican roadblock

Republican lawmakers took the first step in a race against the clock to repeal legislation passed in Washington, D.C., that would authorize physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients who wish to die.

Invoking its seldom-used authority to markup D.C. legislation, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform voted 22 to 14 on Monday to send a resolution to the House floor that would block the Death with Dignity Act.

Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, said laws passed locally are not often reviewed by Congress. But he said the physician-assisted suicide law is “important enough that our committee should have this markup here today.”

“The bill — hastily passed after only a single public hearing — had serious flaws that placed individuals in a position ripe for abuse and mistake,” Mr. Chaffetz said. “The concerns about the dangerous flaws in the District’s act are shared by a number of people, and I will tell you it is of deep personal and moral conviction that I stand in opposition to what has passed, and therefore in favor of this resolution of disapproval.”

The D.C. Council voted 11 to 2 in favor of the Death with Dignity Act in November, and it was signed into law the next month by Mayor Muriel Bowser.

The disapproval resolution must pass both chambers and be signed by the president within 30 legislative days of the legislation’s enactment, which is Feb. 20.

Committee Democrats accused Republicans of disrespecting the will of the District’s elected officials.

“None of us served in the D.C. City Council, where the Death with Dignity Act was approved by a vote of 11 to 2,” said ranking member Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat. “None of us in this committee would stand for congressional interference in their own state and local affairs, and none of us should stand for it in this case.”

Ms. Bowser said the committee vote “has sent a signal to D.C. residents that Congress has zero respect or concern for their will or the will of their elected officials.”

“I urge Chairman Chaffetz to allow D.C. officials to govern D.C. — and focus on the more pressing issues facing our country,” the mayor said in a statement. “Just as he continues to look out for the self determination of the residents of Utah, I’d expect the chairman to let us be governed according to our D.C. values.”

The disapproval resolution was introduced by Rep. Brad R. Wenstrup, Ohio Republican, and was co-sponsored by 60 Republican lawmakers.

Republicans said the Death with Dignity Act would further devalue life and expose society’s most vulnerable — including the disabled, elderly and poor — to risks of medical error, abuse and coercion.

They pointed out that the law does not require a physician to be present for the administration of the lethal drugs, and patients attempting to ascertain aid in dying do not have to undergo a psychological evaluation for depression.

Rep. Jody B. Hice, Georgia Republican, said the law is a symptom of society’s increasing disregard for human life.

“It’s amazing to me how we have become a society that so trivializes life, as though it’s something that is not important or something that can be snuffed away,” Mr. Hice said. “This bill, the dignity bill, is not about sick and dying. At the end of the day, it’s about legalizing suicide. It’s an enormous step toward normalizing euthanasia. It’s a huge step toward a continued march of trivializing life.”

But Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Virginia Democrat, said his colleagues have an obligation not to impose their morality on others.

“I say to my colleagues, think carefully about imposing your moral view on others, and don’t exercise this power simply because you have it,” Mr. Connolly said. “Do the right thing and mind your own business.”

If the Death with Digntiy Act withstands congressional scrutiny, the District would become the 7th jurisdiction where physician-assisted suicide is permissible. Colorado voters, by a 65 percent-to-35 percent margin, approved a similar provision in a ballot measure last year.

The disapproval vote comes after months of activism in the nation’s capital to pass the aid-in-dying law spearheaded by Compassion & Choices.

Jessica Grennan, the group’s national director of political affairs and advocacy, said Congress is setting a “dangerous” precedent by interfering in the District’s affairs.

“We will work with our partners, advocates and D.C. residents living with advanced illness to do everything in our power to protect the D.C. Death with Dignity Act,” Ms. Grennan said in a statement.

Drawing on the Hippocratic oath’s injunction against distributing lethal substances, Rep. Steve Russell, Oklahoma Republican, said the act’s name is misleading.

“No act that extinguishes a life dignifies that life. Rather, it destroys it.”

 

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