2 die under DC law that allows terminally ill to end their own lives

Close-up of hand of senior on hand of dying elderly person as sign of support during sickness(Getty Images/iStockphoto/KatarzynaBialasiewicz)

A report from D.C. Department of Health shows that in 2018, four people obtained prescriptions for drugs that would allow them to end their lives, and two of those terminally ill patients died after taking the prescribed medication.

D.C. passed the Death With Dignity Act in 2016. The law went into effect in July 2017, and it allows a terminally ill patient to obtain lethal doses of medication to end their lives.

Under the law, those patients must be D.C. residents and a doctor must have determined that they have less than six months to live.

According to the two-page report, the two patients who took the prescribed medications were both terminally ill with cancer. Both patients were women; one was 81 years old, the other was 72. Their identities were not made public.

Proponents of legislation say that it gives patients autonomy; while opponents call such laws “assisted suicide,” and argue that people with disabilities or mental illness would be vulnerable to coercion.

Eight states and D.C. have passed such laws. New Jersey’s bill was signed into law in April. Maine passed a similar bill in June.

Maryland’s General Assembly debated the issue in the last session, where the bill failed in the state senate after passionate debate. The 23-23 tie vote could have been broken — there are 47 members in the senate — but state Sen. Obie Patterson, a Democrat from Prince George’s County, declined to vote.

In Virginia, a similar law was introduced in the 2019 lawmaking session, but it failed to move out of committee.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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