Congress takes first step in striking down DC’s assisted-suicide law

Composite image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A House committee voted Monday to invalidate the District of Columbia’s new assisted-suicide law.

Monday’s mostly party-line vote by the House Oversight Committee represented an unusual rebuke of the local District government by Congress. Still, the chances that Congress will strike down the law are slim. The resolution would have to pass the House and the Senate and be signed by President Donald Trump by Friday.

Bradley Williams, president of Montanans Against Assisted Suicide, told St. George News their organization was pleased to hear about the committee’s vote, but he was dubious about the law ultimately being stricken.

“They’re under the gun under a time limit to get things done,” Williams said. “If it happens, I’ll be delighted. … Miracles do happen. I’ll believe it when I see it.”

As opposed to the five states where terminally ill patients are allowed to end their lives with the help of a doctor by state statute, in Montana there is no specific statute. However, in 2009 the state Supreme Court ruled that nothing in the law prohibited a doctor from prescribing medication to hasten the death of a terminally ill, mentally competent patient.

Jason Chaffetz, House Oversight Committee chairman, has called the D.C. law “fundamentally wrong.” Monday’s committee vote sparked protests by advocates for District self-rule.

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, who recently proposed her own version of physician-assisted suicide legislation to the Utah Legislature for the third consecutive year, told St. George News she is frustrated by Chaffetz actions and that she also struggles with the federal intrusion. She said:

We in Utah, a lot of my colleagues, push back against federal intrusion on local control, but yet, this is kind of happening (with the House Oversight Committee). So it’s very frustrating to see that happening instead of allowing the individuals of that local community to define for themselves what their community norms are. They have petitioned their own legislative body to move forward with the legislation, and it succeeded and then to have the federal government and somebody from another state preempt it, it just seems hypocritical, especially given some of the conversations we’ve been having on the (Utah House) floor lately with oversight of federal lands and that kind of stuff.

Chavez-Houck’s bill failed to make it out of the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Read more: No physician-assisted suicide allowance for Utahns

If the Congressional resolution doesn’t pass the U.S. House and Senate, Congress could still seek to block the D.C. law by inserting language into a spending bill.

Even if the law doesn’t get stricken down, Williams said, existing laws allowing for physician-assisted suicide need to be amended. One area that he said needs action is the requirement of a witness. This is something which isn’t required in current statutes, Williams said, and could lead to euthanasia.

“With a witness, those laws would honor an individual’s choice,” Williams said. “Without a witness, they empower others over that individual’s choice.”

Another area that needs to be addressed is transparency, Williams said, especially in the area of filling out the death certificate. Chavez-Houck’s bill – which was modeled after similar legislation – proposed that the cause of death be listed as the terminal condition and not the medication used to end the patient’s life.

Williams said while the medication doesn’t have to be the only cause of death listed, it should be at least one of them.

“I’m a widower, so I’ve seen a death certificate recently,” he said. “There’s about six slots for them to fill out on the death certificate. One of those slots should address the application of the poison as part of the death. When they don’t do that, it disallows future public studies of what’s going on. … It’s covert. It disappears. The data is gone. It is bad public policy.”

Proponents of assisted suicide have brought bills before the Montana Legislature in 2011, 2013 and 2015, Williams said; however, the legislation failed each time.

“They were rejected by our Legislature,” Williams said, “because our Legislature read the bills. They had the same flaws.”

Associated Press reporter BEN NUCKOLS contributed to this report.

Email: pdail@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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