Author of DC Death With Dignity bill says Congress should ‘stay out of it’

WASHINGTON — The author of a recently-passed D.C. law that would give terminally ill patients the option of ending their lives with the help of doctors is speaking out after a member of Congress said he would work to stop the bill from taking effect.

“Congress shouldn’t interfere with our local choices,” said D.C. Council member Mary Cheh.

“We are able to govern ourselves and should be able to govern ourselves and so they should stay out of it.”

Cheh’s comments Tuesday come one day after Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he would use congressional authority to try to block the Death with Dignity Act. He said he plans to introduce a disapproval resolution by the end of this month, The Washington Post reports.

“Assisted suicide is not something we take lightly,” Chaffetz said.

The law would allow terminally ill patients over 18, with six months or fewer to live, to request lethal medication from their doctors. It was approved by the D.C. City Council 11-2 in November and signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser the following month. It was sent to Congress Friday for a 30-day review.

“I would imagine that that member of Congress has so much more to do than to focus on local laws like ours,” Cheh said of Chaffetz.

“There’s no federal interest here. It’s only his philosophical or religious views that he wants to impose on the people of the District of Columbia.”

A Gallup poll released in May 2016 found nearly seven in 10 Americans say doctors should be legally allowed to help terminally ill patients end their lives — up 10 percentage points from 2015. Supporters say it can give patients the option to avoid suffering, but opponents worry some people may feel pressured to end their lives. They have voiced religious concerns.

“It’s up to the District to decide this matter,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Norton tells WTOP she expects an uphill battle as she defends D.C.’s autonomy to other members of Congress who will be drawn in by the controversial nature of the issue.

“If there’s something that goes against their own political philosophy, they feel they are entitled to weigh in. And I feel I need to fight it,” she said.

If the bill receives approval in Congress, D.C. would become the seventh jurisdiction in the country to have such a law along with Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, California and Colorado.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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