Faith leaders, medical professionals and advocates for people with disabilities were among those with an emotional outpouring at Legislative Hall on May 8, standing in opposition to a Delaware House bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in the state.
They left without a vote being taken by the House Health and Human Development Committee. The measure could be considered for a vote by the committee later in the legislative session.
House Bill No. 140 argues that terminally ill patients undergo irreversible reduction in quality of life in their final days and only the patient can determine if his or her suffering is unbearable.
Rep. Timothy Dukes, R-Laurel, said he doesn’t believe government should be involved in end-of-life decisions.
“It’s a dangerous place as a legislator to be to be involved in life-ending measures,” Dukes said. “We don’t give life and we shouldn’t take it away. It’s a natural process that a person engages in with their creator. It comes down to a moral issue on each legislator’s part.”
Committee Chair David Bentz, D-Bear, heard from about half of the 50 people signed up to testify on both sides of the issue. An earlier hearing ran late and limited time for the session. Bentz said he supports the legislation.
John McNeal, director of Delaware’s Council for Persons with Disabilities, said his group opposes the proposed legislation and he worries about the message it sends.
“How will this affect young lives?” he said. “It tells people ‘When feeling pain, it’s OK to commit suicide.’”
McNeal bristled at testimony suggesting this was not an issue central to people with disabilities. He said it is contrary to his council’s mission.
“We’re here to improve the lives of people with disabilities and believe these resources should be used to do the same,” McNeal said. “I’ve heard this doesn’t affect people with disabilities. It certainly does.”
Dr. Neil Kaye of Hockessin spoke on behalf of the Medical Society of Delaware and said the proposal is “fundamentally incompatible” with the medical code of professional ethics.
“We have never wavered from our opposition,” he said. “What has never changed is our responsibility to focus 100 percent of our efforts on healing.”
Legislators on both sides of the issue shared viewpoints with the packed hearing room.
“Do we have the right to play God?” said Dukes, who is pastor of Central Worship Center in Laurel. “I have stood by the side of (dying) people in this situation. Sometimes it’s not easy, sometimes it’s very beautiful. It’s not always about doing what’s easy, but doing what’s right.”
Rep. Charles Postles Jr., a committee member, said it’s a sanctity-of-life issue that should not be before the legislature.
“I’m opposed to any measure that would take life,” he said.
The ACLU and others offered testimony in favor of the proposal.
“This is solely for Delaware residents who are dying and can make a decision with their doctor,” said Rep. Paul Baumbach of Newark, a co-sponsor of the bill.
“This is ultimately about choice,” Bentz said. “What would I want available for my family?”
At the hearing’s conclusion, Baumbach requested no action be taken. He said it could be included on the committee agenda in coming weeks.
“It’s an incredibly difficult topic that takes a lot of time to consider,” he said.
Other House members sponsoring the bill are Gerald L. Brady, Wilmington, Raymond Seigfried, Wilmington, John Kowalko, Newark and Edward Osienski, Newark.
Similar efforts in Delaware were met with opposition and failed in 2017 and 2018.