WASHINGTON — Representatives of the nation’s capital voted Tuesday to legalize physician-assisted suicide, despite strong opposition from religious, legal and medical leaders.
“Since the time of the Hippocratic Oath — which long predated Christianity — the medical community saw the profound incompatibility of efforts to end life being facilitated by a healing profession,” Lucia Silecchia, a law professor at The Catholic University of America and a Washington, D.C. resident, told CNA.
“Thus, while the Catholic and Christian understanding of the dignity of human persons, made in the image and likeness of God undergirds the moral critique of such statutes, the medical opposition long predates Christ, and the legal objections should compel anyone who observes how easily disregard for the life of one spreads,” she said.
The D.C. city council voted 11-2 on Nov. 1 to pass the “Death With Dignity” bill, which would allow two doctors, who both determine that a patient will die within sixth months, to prescribe a fatal dose of medication for the patient upon request.
The bill is expected to become law. Although Mayor Muriel Bowser has not publicly confirmed she would sign it, and the city council still has to hold a final vote later this month, the bill for now has a veto-proof majority.
If it goes through, Washington. D.C. will join a handful of other states in allowing for physician-assisted suicide. Legislatures in Oregon, Washington, California, and Vermont have legalized the practice, as has the Montana Supreme Court.
Legislation to permit assisted suicide is currently being considered in New Jersey, and Colorado voters will consider a ballot measure to legalize the practice on Nov. 8.
The D.C. bill was advertised as expanding the end-of-life options for terminally-ill patients, but opponents insisted that it could become a poison pill where the poor and disabled would be pressured to end their lives rather than burden others with high medical costs. They have also expressed grave concerns that the bill would make a severe impact the city's African-American population.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington has spoken out repeatedly against the bill as a false sense of mercy.
“A truly compassionate and merciful response to the sick and vulnerable is not to confirm these impulses by offering them a lethal drug,” he said in an Oct. 5 statement.
“Whether it is a terminally ill person or a young person suffering from depression, our response should be to draw them away from the edge, to help the vulnerable among us — regardless of their condition or circumstances — with genuine compassion and give them hope.”
In addition to the immorality of suicide, the bill poses other serious ethical concerns for its opponents.
Not all terminal diagnoses are correct, as patients can outlive their life expectancy by years. Thus, some patients who would otherwise long outlive their diagnosis might instead opt for an early death.
However, under the legislative measure, doctors could write a lethal prescription for a patient they barely know but deem to be terminally-ill, and if a patient’s long-time physician refuses to write them a prescription, the patient could simply look around for a doctor who will.
Also, one of the witnesses to the patient’s decision to end their life could be an interested party that could benefit financially from the patient’s death.
States that have legalized assisted suicide have run into problems, such as one case in California where a terminally ill woman was told that her doctor-recommended chemotherapy treatment would not be covered by insurance, but pills for suicide would be covered.
Also of concern is evidence that many patients suffer from anxiety or depression when they receive a terminal diagnosis, and their desire to end their lives disappears when they are treated for these conditions.