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D.C.’s Physician-Assisted Suicide Act Faces Challenge in Congress


The future of Obamacare isn’t the only hotly contested and high-stakes legislation in the nation’s capital.

A Republican chairman of the committee with oversight of the District of Columbia has vowed to block Washington from implementing a controversial law that allows terminally ill adults to end their lives with doctor-prescribed drugs.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Image Courtesy WikiMedia Commons.

“Assisted suicide is not something we take lightly,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, The Washington Post reports.

Last month, Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser signed legislation passed by Washington, D.C.’s city council, making the District the seventh jurisdiction to allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives.

However, the legislation was sent to Capitol Hill for review and could die there. Although Washington, D.C. functions as a locally governed community, the Constitution gives Congress authority over the District, partly because the centers of all three branches of the federal government reside there.

Local opponents of the law are pressing the Republican-controlled Congress to use its power to void the District’s law, The Post reports.

Their efforts are paying off: last week, Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, and Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, introduced companion resolutions disapproving of the law. Disapproval resolutions require House, Senate and Presidential approval.

The earliest the law would take effect is October.

The legislation is modeled after the nation’s first physician-assisted suicide law, enacted in Oregon in 1996. It allows doctors to prescribe life-ending barbiturates to dying patients with a life-expectancy of six months or less. Patients must be deemed mentally competent and ingest the drugs themselves.

Peg Sandeen, Death with Dignity executive director

“We are so disappointed that representatives from Utah, Ohio and Oklahoma are attempting to step in and interfere with ‘Death with Dignity’ in the District,” Peg Sandeen, executive director of Death with Dignity, told Life Matters Media.

“This issue was debated for two years,” she said. “The idea that people from not anywhere close to the District could intervene and stop it is just horrible.”

Sandeen’s concerns were echoed by The Post’s Editorial Board, which supports the practice. The Editorial Board accused Chaffetz of playing politics.

“Mr. Chaffetz, who, like many of his colleagues on the Hill, views the District not as a locally governed community with residents who should have all the rights of other Americans but as an opportunity to score easy political points,” it reads.

“The Constitution gives Congress pretty much absolute authority over the District, but just because Congress can do something does not mean it should.”

Chaffetz could not be reached for comment.

The American Medical Association, the nation’s largest organization of physicians, medical students and residents, is opposed to physician-assisted suicide.