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Euthanasia expert Alex Schadenberg warns of another physician-assisted suicide push in Delaware legislature

Alex Schadenberg

DOVER — Delawareans should be wary of assisted suicide legislation currently in the state’s General Assembly.

Delaware Right to Life heard that message from speaker Alex Schadenberg, director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, at the group’s annual banquet Nov. 14 in Dover.

State Sen. Bryant Richardson (R-Laurel) addresses a pro-life rally in the Senate chamber in Dover on Jan. 22, the 46th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Two days later, two pro-life bills he is co-sponsoring were introduced in the House of Representatives. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Bryant Richardson)

Schadenberg said such bills are touted as compassionate efforts to end suffering and bring dignity to those with terminal illnesses. But he warned they may have too few safeguards and can sometimes lead to horrific abuses, no matter how well-intentioned.

HB 140 is currently in committee in the General Assembly. It must still pass both the House and Senate and be signed by the governor before it can be enacted. No action will take place before January, when the legislature returns to session. The session ends June 30.

The primary sponsor is Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark.

HB 140 would allow a doctor to prescribe lethal medicine to a patient who is found to have less than six months to live. Two waiting periods are required and the patient must be given a chance to change their mind. The medicine could then be taken by the patient in accordance with the assisted suicide bill. That differs from euthanasia because euthanasia allows a doctor to give a lethal injection to a patient, according to Schadenberg.

Delaware’s bill does not allow euthanasia.

Rep. Paul Baumbach is the sponsor of the physician-assisted suicide bill in Delaware. Dialog photo/Joseph P. Owens

The synopsis of the bill says that  “this Act permits a terminally ill individual who is an adult resident of Delaware to request and self-administer medication to end the individual’s life in a humane and dignified manner if both the individual’s attending physician and a consulting physician agree on the individual’s diagnosis and prognosis and believe the individual has decision-making capacity, is making an informed decision, and is acting voluntarily.”

No committee vote was taken after an emotion-packed hearing on the legislation in May. It remains in the House Health and Human Development Committee.

Schadenberg well-received by the group. He gave a number of examples of abuses of such legislation elsewhere and showed video from a movie entitled “Fatal Flaws”.

“It is sold to us as freedom. It is the opposite,” he said. “It is about abandonment.”

He argued that people often experience low points in their lives and such feelings of hopelessness and despair should be considered a plea for help. With such laws, it becomes a chance to end life, which he argued is abandonment of people when they are at their lowest and most in need.

Schadenberg conceded that many people do not get better, but he said some patients could have months or even years to possibly live. He referred to arguments of compassion and kindness as “the lie we are fed.”

“These laws are not designed to protect the patient. They are designed to protect the doctor who wants to kill you,” he said.

He cited cases in which family members allege that doctors pressured vulnerable patients, waived required waiting periods or allowed a person to die when they were depressed, but had no physical disease. In one case, the movie alleged that a woman was injected after she decided not to go through with her euthanasia request.

In another case, he said a woman named Jeanette Hall asked for euthanasia after a cancer diagnosis. Schadenberg said the doctor found a way to help her by asking if she wanted to live to see her son graduate from the police academy.

He said that she agreed to treatment and is alive some 16 years later because her doctor sought a way to help her find “hope.”

He said there is sometimes not enough third party oversight of such laws. While there are safeguards in place, he said they are sometimes so filled with large loopholes that you can drive “a hearse” through them.

The bill reads in part that:

  • No one may request medication to end life on behalf of another individual.
  • An individual cannot qualify for medication to end life under this chapter solely because of the individual’s age or disability.
  • Both the person’s attending physician and a consulting physician must confirm that the individual has a terminal illness and a prognosis of six months or less to live, has decision-making capacity, is making an informed decision and is acting voluntarily.
  • The individual’s attending physician must also provide specific disclosures to the person to ensure that the individual is making an informed decision, including the presentation of all end of life options which include comfort care, hospice care, and pain control.
  • The individual must be evaluated by a psychiatrist or a psychologist if either the attending or consulting physicians are concerned that the individual lacks decision-making capacity.

Similar legislation failed to pass in both 2017 and 2018 in Delaware.