Home Our Diocese Physician-assisted suicide proposed law HB140 approved by Delaware House, heads to state...

Physician-assisted suicide proposed law HB140 approved by Delaware House, heads to state Senate

Rep. Paul Baumbach has been primary sponsor of the physician-assisted suicide bill in Delaware.

House Bill 140, which would legalize assisted suicide for Delaware residents facing a terminal illness, passed the House of Representatives on April 18 on a nearly party-line vote.

The vote was 21 in favor and 16 opposed. Four legislators were absent. The bill moves to the state senate, where it has been assigned to the Executive Committee. If it advances out of committee, it would be considered by the full senate, which has 15 Democrats and six Republicans. That body would have to pass the bill by June 30, the end of the legislative session, and send it to Gov. John Carney, who could sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

A message was left with the governor’s office. Carney has previously stated his opposition to assisted suicide.

In a statement before a House committee vote in January 2022, Carney said he would not support the measure.

Gov. John Carney

“I know this is an extremely difficult and personal issue for many of my constituents, and I have sympathy and compassion for those who are grappling with these painful questions,” Carney said in a statement to The Dialog two years ago. “Ultimately, though, I believe enabling physicians to facilitate suicide crosses a boundary that I’m just not comfortable crossing.”

This is the second of the two-year General Assembly. If the senate does not act on the bill by June 30, the bill would have to be re-introduced next year and begin the legislative process all over again.

HB 140 would permit a terminally ill person to self-administer medication to end his or her life if several conditions are met. An attending physician or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) and a consulting physician or APRN would have to agree on the diagnosis and prognosis and believe the person is making an informed decision voluntarily. No one may request medication on behalf of another individual. Mental illness or mental health is not a qualifying condition. The patient must have a prognosis of six months or shorter to live. There are others as well.

John McNeal is director of the state Council for Persons with Disabilities. The group opposes physician-assisted suicide. Dialog photo/Joseph P. Owens

The primary sponsor of the bill in the house was Democratic Rep. Paul Baumbach. The bill has six senate sponsors and co-sponsors. If it goes into law, it would take effect July 1, 2025. Baumbach has been pursuing this bill through several legislative sessions.

During debate in the house, Baumbach heard concerns from several Republican representatives. One was Rep. Richard Collins, who said assisted suicide in Canada has grown since it was legalized.

“My concern is that once we put this in place, it won’t stop,” he said. “It will grow. People who have lost hope for whatever reason … some of them are going to seek a way out by dying.”

“I know there are some people in this room that say they’re Christian. I suggest you think about what you’re going to say to God when you get there, if you do,” Collins said.

Rep. Valerie Jones Giltner, a retired critical care nurse from Georgetown, said advances in palliative care makes this bill unnecessary. Baumbach said palliative care is “wonderful in the vast majority of cases,” but there are a number in which it is unable “to block the pain in the last days of a terminally ill individual.”

A dying person may never take advantage of assisted suicide, but this gives them a choice, Baumbach said.

Republican Rep. Michael Ramone, a graduate of Saint Mark’s High School, said he has gone through some personal situations that made him consider voting in favor of the bill, but his Catholic faith is adamantly against assisted suicide.

The senate Executive Committee is chaired by Sen. David Sokola. It does not have any meetings currently scheduled and, by law, would have to advertise any upcoming meetings at least seven days in advance. The committee includes five Democrats and two Republicans.

The following House Democrats voted in favor of assisted suicide: Kendra Johnson, Larry Lambert, Sherae’a Moore, Krista Griffith, DeShanna U Neal, Peter Schwartzkopf, Valerie Longhurst, Melissa Minor-Brown, Sophie Phillips, Kimberly Williams, Stell Parker Selby, Paul Baumbach, Edward Osienski, Madinah Wilson-Anton, Eric Morrison, William Bush, Sean Lynn, Kerri Evelyn Harris, William Carson, and Cyndie Romer.

Kevin Hensley was the lone Republican to vote in favor.

Those voting no included Republicans Richard Collins, Timothy Dukes, Daniel Short, Ronald Gray, Valerie Jones Giltner, Bryan Shupe, Jesse Vanderwende, Lyndon Yearick, Charles Postles, Shannon Morris, Michael Smith, Michael Ramone, Jeffrey Spiegelman, and Jeff Hilovsky.

Democrats Franklin Cooke and Sean Matthews also voted no.

Four Democrats were absent. They were Nnamdi Chukwuocha, Stephanie Bolden, Sherry Dorsey Walker and Debra Heffernan.

Find their contact information here.