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Delaware physician-assisted suicide effort not finished yet as advocacy network calls for action against political maneuvering

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A person is pictured in a file photo holding a sign against physician-assisted suicide. The California Department of Public Health's "End of Life Option Act 2022 Data Report," released in July 2023, shows there has been a 63% increase in requests for life-ending drugs, with 853 eventual deaths, since the state relaxed its physician-assisted death rules in 2021. (OSV News photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)

Last week’s defeat of a physician-assisted suicide effort in the Delaware state senate could be back on track if some parliamentary maneuvering happens in the upper house in Dover this week as the 2024 legislative session draws to a June 30 close.

The Delaware Catholic Advocacy Network issued an “Action alert” June 24 imploring followers to reach out to their local senators.

“We need your help to prevent the reconsideration of HB 140 legalizing physician-assisted suicide,” read the alert. “Contact your senator today.”

HB140 fell in a narrow defeat June 20. The bill’s primary Democrat sponsor in the senate, majority leader Sen. Bryan Townsend, spoke in favor of the bill and voted for it, but changed his vote to “no” before the roll call was officially recorded. By voting with the majority in the narrowly defeated legislation, he preserved the ability to move to rescind the vote and call for another tally before the end of the session.

“It is our understanding that there is an effort under way to pass a motion to rescind the roll call and restore the bill and bring it back before the Senate for consideration,” the advocacy network said in its alert. “Please email and/or call members of the Senate to urge them to vote against the motion.”

Six Republicans and five democrats voted against the measure or did not vote, effectively defeating the effort with 11 members in the 21-seat Senate. Townsend switched his yes vote to no at the last minute, preserving his ability to move to rescind the vote sometime this week and call for another vote.

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The tight vote came at the conclusion of a lengthy debate that mostly included remarks from senators against physician-assisted suicide.

“It shouldn’t be taken lightly that life is precious,” said Sen. Eric Buckson, a Republican from Kent County who voted no. “No one is voting from a place of indifference. I sympathize, but there are deep concerns. I’m not there at this time.”

Many senators leaned on personal experience in shaping their vote.

Sen. Bryant Richardson shared losing his sister at 64-years-old and a sister-in-law at 65.

“Even though they had a lot of pain late in life, they had a lot to share with the family,” he said. “They passed peacefully. This is something we cannot support.”

Sen. Nicole Poore, a Democrat from New Castle, said she worries about her child with a disability and what could happen as legislatures change and the law evolves.

“Life and death is not without its own challenges, but I don’t believe it needs to be legislated,” she said. “I’m a firm believer in choice, but I don’t know one doctor who can correctly deliver a death date.”

Voting no or not voting were Democrats Darius Brown, Kyra Hoffner, Poore, Mantzavinos and Walsh, and Republicans Richardson, Buckson, Gerald Hocker, Brian Pettyjohn, David Wilson and Dave Lawson.

Townsend voted no after originally voting yes.

Voting in favor of the physician-assisted suicide bill were Democrats Sarah McBride, Elizabeth Lockman, Laura Sturgeon, Kyle Evans Gay, Russell Huxtable, David Sokola, Stephanie Hansen, Marie Pinkney, Trey Paradee.

The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington was among numerous organizations that opposed the bill, which was similar to one defeated earlier in the year in Maryland, where the diocese includes churches, schools and organizations along the Eastern Shore.

Bishop Koenig spoke out last week, wanting people in the diocese to know that life from birth until natural death is how we were meant to live and no law should allow people to take their own lives.