- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2017

D.C. officials are rolling out regulations so doctors can begin to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients who wish to die, but congressional Republicans want to make sure the physician-assisted suicide law is short-lived.

The mayor’s office announced Monday the implementation of the Death With Dignity Act, allowing doctors to prescribe lethal doses to patients who are at least 18 years old, mentally competent and have a prognosis of no more than six months left to live.

But last Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment introduced by Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland Republican, that would not only withhold funding for the legislation but repeal it altogether.

Mr. Harris, an anesthesiologist by trade, said authorizing doctors to help terminally ill patients end their lives corrupts medicine and puts vulnerable patients, such as the disabled and elderly, at risk of abuse.

“I just don’t think it’s appropriate for the government to give doctors the authority to play God with people’s lives,” Mr. Harris said. “There’s nothing dignified about suicide.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Death With Dignity Act into law in December, one month after it passed the D.C. Council in an 11-to-2 vote.

The District became the sixth jurisdiction to enact such a law, joining: California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state. The Montana Supreme Court has also ruled that helping terminally ill patients to end their lives is not against state law. Dozens of states are considering similar measures.

House Republicans mounted a campaign, led by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, to overturn the D.C. law during the 30-day congressional review period, but ran out of time before a floor vote could be taken.

That effort rankled proponents of physician-assisted suicide and critics of federal intervention into District governance.

Kim Callinan, chief program officer for Compassion & Choices, which has spearheaded the aid-in-dying movement, called the latest repeal attempt an “abuse of power.”

“Rep. Harris is now misusing the appropriations process to do what opponents of medical aid in dying could not openly do before,” Ms. Callinan said in a statement. “This end run is shameful, it’s wrong and now D.C. residents who are dying are being deprived of the peace of mind that this law brings.”

Mary Klein, a D.C. resident who has terminal ovarian cancer, said it’s not the role of the federal government “to impose their will and beliefs on me and take away the most personal of decisions: how to die.”

But Mr. Harris said the Constitution “clearly gives Congress the authority to oversee the federal enclave of the District of Columbia.”

“I can’t do anything about a law passed in Colorado,” the congressman said, “but I am a member of Congress, and Congress has jurisdiction over the District of Columbia.”

J.J. Hanson, president of the Patients Rights Action Fund, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2014 and given four months to live. He applauded Congress for taking steps to repeal the Death With Dignity Act.

“We welcome any efforts at the congressional level or otherwise to halt assisted-suicide policy, which will only put vulnerable D.C. residents — the terminally ill, people with disabilities and the poor — at risk,” Mr. Hanson said.

The House committee approved the amendment by a 28 to 24 vote largely on party lines. The bill still has to be approved by the full House and Senate, and then signed by President Trump, for the repeal to take effect.

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