Legislators in Delaware are again attempting to approve legislation that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in the state.
House Bill 140 will be the topic of discussion Jan. 19 at 11 a.m. in a virtual hearing before the House Human Development Committee. The proposed law would permit a terminally ill person who is an adult resident of Delaware to request and self-administer medication to end their life.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Paul Baumbach, who initiated a similar push in 2019. Additional sponsors and co-sponsors include Reps. David Bentz, Eric Morrison, Gerald Brady, John Kowalko, Edward Osienski, Peter Schwartzkopf, Kimberly Williams and Sens. Bryan Townsend, S. Elizabeth Lockman, Sarah McBride and David Sokola.
“Our group is adamantly opposed to it and has been from the very beginning,” said John McNeal, director of the state council for persons with disabilities. He said the proposal offers little if any support for people and provides too easy an option for a person to end their life.
“It’s not just from a disabilities perspective,” he said. “I don’t think the larger community understands that.”
In an alert to its members Jan. 14, the Delaware Catholic Advocacy Network of the Diocese of Wilmington encouraged members to reach out to their legislature to make known their opposition to the bill.
“Efforts on the part of the Catholic community, other faith groups, medical professionals, Saint Francis Healthcare, and advocates for persons with disabilities, kept this legislation from becoming law in recent legislative sessions,” the statement read. “We need to do so again this year, and are asking for your help.”
The American Medical Association and the Delaware Health Care Association oppose physician-assisted suicide, as do advocates for those with disabilities, and many faith communities, according to the notice from DCAN.
DCAN encourages members to click the link below to log in and send your message:
The House bill 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.
People who would like to join the virtual hearing can find the link here: https://legis.delaware.gov/MeetingNotice?committeeMeetingId=22633
In 2019, the committee heard from about half of the 50 people signed up to testify on both sides of the issue.
At the 2019 hearing, Rep. Timothy Dukes spoke out against the legislation.
“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.”
The DCAN alert detailed some of the group’s objections to the proposed law.
- The bill would legalize and normalize participation in the intentional taking of human life by physicians and advanced practice registered nurses.
- This bill lacks adequate safeguards to protect persons with disabilities, the elderly, and those suffering from mental illness. Once lethal drugs have been prescribed, this law has no requirements for assessing the patient’s consent, competency, or voluntariness. Who would know if the drugs are freely taken since there is no supervision or tracking of the drugs once they leave the pharmacy and since no witnesses are required at the time of death?
- The drugs prescribed under the law are so highly addictive and easily misused that they are put into the same drug category by the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as cocaine, OxyContin, and fentanyl, to name a few. Each prescription would contain 100 of these pills, exposing our communities to a new source of addiction and lives lost too soon to drug misuse.
- The law appears to limit eligibility to terminally ill patients who are expected to die within six months but doesn’t distinguish between persons who will die within six months with treatment and those who will die within six months without treatment. This means patients with treatable diseases like diabetes and disabilities requiring ventilator support are eligible for lethal drugs since they would die within six months without treatment. Furthermore, diagnoses of terminal illness and predictions of life expectancy are notoriously inaccurate.
- Despite medical literature showing that nearly 95 percent of those who commit suicide had a diagnosable psychiatric illness (usually treatable depression) in the months preceding suicide, HB 140 does not require a psychological evaluation unless the prescribing doctor or nurse or the doctor selected to give a second opinion requests it.
Similar efforts in Delaware were met with opposition and failed in 2017 and 2018.