Lawmakers passed a bill this week that will make assisted suicide legal in the District of Columbia, aligning the city with six states where terminally ill patients can choose to die with the help of a doctor.
Council members voted 11-2 in favor of the legislation, forwarding it into the desk of D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser, who previously said she would not veto the bill.
Congress will then review and approve the bill before it can become law.
The Death with Dignity Act was met with opposition from the district’s African American community, as well as medical professionals and rights groups, who argue that it would mostly affect the poorer and older members of society, particularly those who have disabilities or suffer from chronic illness, Life News reported.
African American residents said the bill makes them especially vulnerable.
“Because of Jim Crow laws … we didn’t have the opportunity to have the same jobs, to have the same insurance, the same retirement benefits,” Leona Redmond, an activist, told The Washington Post. “It’s really aimed at old black people. It really is.”
No DC Suicide, an initiative opposing the Death with Dignity Act, said the bill is “discriminatory because it would disproportionately target poor and vulnerable persons including senior citizens and those with disabilities and mental health challenges, often denying them appropriate health care, legal safeguards and choices on how they live their lives.”
Legislation opponents are organizing a move to petition Congress to block the passage of the bill into law, according to Marilyn Golden, senior policy officer at the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund.
Golden said Congress needs to be informed so they could “understand what the problems are,” The Washington Times reported. Golden also said the bill does not have safeguards against abuse, medical error and coercion.
“Much as the proponents protest over and over again that there are adequate safeguards, they are in no way adequate,” she said.
Council member Mary Cheh, sponsor of the bill, said D.C. urgently needs a measure for “terminally ill residents to have the end-of-life option of medical aid in dying.”
“This law is designed to keep the government from taking away people’s freedom and liberty to make these fundamentally personal decisions in consultation with their family, physician and spiritual advisors,” she said in a statement.
Assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Vermont. In some of these states, an increasing number of terminally ill patients are being denied treatment and are instead encouraged to opt for assisted suicide. This is because the cost of treatment is a lot more expensive than that of assisted suicide, in which a patient only pays for the medicine that would induce death.
Mother-of-four Stephanie Packer, who has terminal scleroderma, said her insurance company would not cover her treatment but would cover the assisted suicide medication.
“As soon as this law was passed — and you see it everywhere, when these laws are passed — patients fighting for a longer life end up getting denied treatment, because this [assisted suicide] will always be the cheapest option,” Packer said.