WASHINGTON — It’s an emotionally charged and complex issue. “Death with Dignity” got its first hearing in the District on Friday, offering a public voice on legislation that would give terminally-ill adults the right to end their lives.
The proposed legislation, introduced by council member Mary Cheh, requires two doctors to confirm a patient’s terminal illness. The person must have a diagnosis of six months or less to live. From there, the patient can get a lethal dose of prescription drugs to end his or her life.
“The law should not force upon a person a punishing death, when death is imminent,” Cheh says. “It’s coersive for the government, to among all the choices you have on death’s door … to deny this peaceful exit to people who are competent to choose it.”
But opponents say it would put the disabled and elderly at risk of abuse. Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Department of Health, says a physician’s oath is to do no harm.
“The main opponent of this bill, for me, is misunderstanding,” Cheh says. “The death with dignity legislation catapults the District into uncharted territories that we are not yet prepared to navigate.”
The bill requires the patient to self-medicate. D.C. resident Susan Farris, who has stage 4 breast cancer, told the council, “I am not suicidal. I do not want to die.”
“Cancer is not a good death,” Farris says. “The promise of aid in dying in Washington, D.C. offers me comfort in this horrible situation.”
Friday’s hearing is just an initial step before the Council leaves for vacation. They will debate the bill in the fall.
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