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No Takers A Year After D.C. Legalizes Physician-Assisted Suicide


Photo via Compassion and Choices.

Not a single patient in the nation’s capital has taken advantage of a controversial physician-assisted suicide law.

Nearly a year after the District enacted the law, only two physicians licensed to practice there have registered to help patients end their lives, according to The Washington Post. Just one hospital has cleared doctors to participate.

Compassion and Choices, a national advocacy group that advocates for physician-assisted suicide, blames local health officials for dissuading doctors from taking part.

“It’s been exceptionally, exceptionally slow,” Kat West, national director of policy and programs for Compassion and Choices, told The Post. “Especially in the first year, there’s usually a lot of interest in learning a lot about these laws. That, we think, has been really dampened and discouraged in D.C. because of these administrative rules.”

Some doctors may not want to end up on a government registry, even though their names aren’t publicly available.

“They don’t want to be known as the doctor who gives out death prescriptions,” Omega Silva, a retired physician in the District and a Compassion and Choices volunteer, told the newspaper.

The legislation, signed last winter by Democratic Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, 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.

However, such legislation is strongly opposed by the American Medical Association, Republicans, religious groups and disability advocates.

The Chicago-based AMA is the nation’s largest organization of physicians and represents nearly 200,000 doctors, medical students and residents. Its policy remains unmoved amid a national debate regarding the risks and benefits of physician-assisted suicide.

“It is understandable, though tragic, that some patients in extreme duress – such as those suffering from a terminal, painful, debilitating illness – may come to decide that death is preferable to life,” according to an AMA statement sent to Life Matters Media. “However, allowing physicians to participate in assisted suicide would cause more harm than good. Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”