DC council committee passes physician-assisted suicide bill

WASHINGTON, DC — A bill that would allow physician-assisted suicide in Washington, D.C. passed in a D.C. Council committee.

The “Death with Dignity Act of 2015” passed by a 3-2 margin in the Committee on Health and Human Services and will be introduced to the Committee of the Whole on October 18.

"We feel fantastic. We feel that the residents of the District has been heard,” said Charmaine Manansala, the national political director for Compassion and Choices, a group that supports physician-assisted suicide.

The bill’s author, Ward 5 Councilmember Mary Cheh, voted in favor of the legislation along with At-Large Councilmember David Grosso and Ward 8 Councilmember LaRuby May.

Ward 7 Councilmember and committee chair Yvette Alexander and Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau opposed the bill.

"Given the nature of this bill being a literal life or death issue, I believe that this matter is best left to the decision of the residents of the District of Columbia by way of a ballot initiative,” said Councilmember Alexander prior to the vote.

If passed, the bill would allow adult D.C. residents that are terminally ill and have less than six months to live to seek medication from their attending physician to end their life. However, there is a multi-step process to getting them, including making the request several times, both orally and written, having another doctor confirm the diagnosis of their attending physician, and having their attending physician rule that the patient is of fit mind and is not being coerced.

Opponents expressed worry that they elderly, frail, disabled, and poor would be victimized by this bill.

"This council is creating, they’re creating an Agatha Christie plot for a perfect crime. And the people who are going to be hurt are going to be elderly people who are frail and disabled people,” said Stephen Mikochik, a professor emeritus of constitutional law at Temple Law School, with the No Suicide Coalition.

Councilmember Cheh said she has the support of at least nine colleagues on the council, but does not know how D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser feels about the issue.

"The one conversation I had with her, which was some while back, was noncommittal,” added Councilmember Cheh.

A spokesperson for Mayor Bowser said she has no comment on the bill at this time.

If council passes the bill and Mayor Bowser decide to veto it, council could override the veto by a supermajority if there are the 10 required votes that Councilmember Cheh said are there.