WASHINGTON — A repeal of Washington, D.C.’s physician-assisted suicide law moved through the U.S. House on Monday, but is in a race against time to pass through Congress and be signed by President Donald Trump by Friday.
Members of Congress “have the constitutional responsibility to do this,” Gloria Purvis, host of the radio show Morning Glory on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, told CNA of the move to repeal D.C.’s “Death With Dignity Act.”
The city council did not “even seek the voice of their own people” through putting the issue to a referendum, even though community leaders, disability-rights groups and many African-American senior citizens opposed it, said Purvis, who has also served on the National Black Catholic Congress’ Leadership Commission on Social Justice.
The House Oversight Committee voted 22-14 on Monday to send a measure disapproving of Washington’s assisted-suicide law to the House floor for a vote, Jason Calvi of EWTN News Nightly reported.
Back in December, the D.C. City Council had passed the Death With Dignity Act, joining five states that have statutes legalizing physician-assisted suicide and Montana, where it is currently legal due to a 2009 decision by the state’s supreme court.
Congress, however, has 30 legislative days to overturn laws passed by Washington, D.C. That time period will expire after Friday. A repeal measure must pass both houses of Congress and be signed into law by the president.
The act could be effectively nullified by the House refusing to fund the D.C. Health Department in its appropriations bill, Purvis said. Attorney General Jeff Sessions could also take action against the law, saying it conflicts with the Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act from 1997, which prohibits federal funding of the practice.
Nevertheless, the act “devalues life,” is “morally repugnant” and is “not in the interest of the common good,” Purvis insisted. In the situations of terminal patients who are suffering, “the answer is to care for them,” she said, rather than serve “the radical ‘I’” mentality of a culture of autonomy.
Disability-rights advocates are also pushing Congress to repeal the law, calling it “dangerous and harmful public policy.” At the same time, they are urging Congress to leave in place the Affordable Care Act, saying that “any degradation in health care will drive increased demand for assisted suicide.”
Physician-assisted suicide enables serious ethical abuses to occur when someone has a terminal illness, disability-rights groups argued. The coalition includes the American Association of People With Disabilities, the Disability Rights Center, the National Council on Independent Living and the group “Not Dead Yet.”
“Assisted suicide is a prescription for abuse: An heir or abusive caregiver can steer someone towards assisted suicide, witness the request, pick up the lethal dose, and, in the end, even administer the drug — no witnesses are required at the death, so who would know? Many other pressures exist that can cause people with compromised health to hasten their deaths,” they stated.
The language of the bill could enable abuses like this, Purvis insisted, as it allows patients to “ingest” a lethal dose of drugs. A dose that is administered by a third party to an unconscious patient could technically be “ingested” by the patient and thus be legal, she explained.
Patients with a terminal diagnosis can also suffer from treatable depression, a mental disorder that can affect their judgment to request a lethal prescription and which can be manipulated by others, the coalition added.
“When assisted suicide is legal, it’s the cheapest treatment available, an attractive option in our profit-driven health care system,” they argued.
Civic efforts to fight teen suicide are also undermined by the message of this bill, Purvis said, as it implies that some lives are not worth living.
Such legislation purports to bring greater empowerment and freedom to sick patients, but it’s an ethical “slippery slope,” professor Charles Camosy of Fordham University argued in a recent opinion piece in the New York Daily News.
Although supporters will argue that assisted suicide helps terminal patients avoid intense suffering and pain, patients will “far more likely” choose it out of “not wanting to be a burden on others,” he wrote.
“On other issues, liberals rightly focus on how laws affect vulnerable populations,” he said, explaining that “liberals in Massachusetts” defeated the issue at the ballot box because they were “worried that older people, already thought to be a drain or burden in a culture which worships youth and capital production, might be pressured to consider assisted suicide.”
He also stated, “Those of us with progressive philosophies must instead unequivocally affirm the goodness of the existence of the old and sick. Especially when our consumerist culture tells them they have no net value.”