DOVER, Del. (AP) — Democratic lawmakers are again trying to pass legislation allowing doctor-assisted suicide in Delaware.
A bill introduced Thursday allows an adult diagnosed with a terminal illness and expected to die within six months to request prescription drugs to end his or her life. A consulting physician would have to confirm the attending doctor's diagnosis.
The patient would have to make both oral and written requests and would have to wait at least 15 days after the initial request before receiving the drugs.
The bill also mandates that the death certificate for anyone who commits doctor-assisted suicide falsely state that the cause of death was the underlying illness, not suicide. That provides a mechanism that would allow a beneficiary to collect on a life insurance policy that otherwise excludes coverage for suicide.
"This is an issue about allowing adults facing a terminal illness to make critical decisions about their life," said chief sponsor Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark. "Many people in the last stages of life wish to retain their autonomy, including the ability to make decisions regarding their life and their suffering."
The bill is similar to legislation that Baumbach first proposed in 2015 and resurrected in 2017, but which has never made it to a floor vote.
Baumbach said this year's version of the bill, which has six Democratic co-sponsors, contains several changes from his previous proposal. One difference is that it defines "terminal illness" as a condition in which the expectation of death within six months stems from "medical probability," rather than a "reasonable medical judgment."
The latest proposal also specifically requires and defines informed consent and the information a physician must provide to a patient about alternative treatments. The bill also prohibits anyone, including a guardian or authorized representative, from requesting a lethal dose of drugs for someone who is terminally ill.
The legislation also requires a doctor to refer a patient requesting assisted suicide to a psychiatrist or psychologist if the doctor believes the person lacks the capacity to make an informed decision.
Despite the changes, the legislation could again face an uphill battle in the General Assembly, and perhaps even a veto from Gov. John Carney if it passes.
"I believe we should do everything we can to enable people with terminal illnesses to die peacefully. I know this is an extremely difficult and personal issue for many of my constituents, and I have sympathy and compassion for those who are grappling with these painful questions," Carney said in an emailed statement. "Ultimately though, I believe enabling physicians to facilitate suicide crosses a boundary that I'm just not comfortable crossing."
The Medical Society of Delaware also maintains its opposition to assisted suicide, saying it raises "ethical, clinical, and other concerns," and "fundamentally alters the medical profession's role in society."
"Control over the manner and timing of a person's death has not been and should not be a goal of medicine," according to a statement adopted by the medical society in 2017, citing a position paper by the American College of Physicians. "Physician-assisted suicide is neither a therapy nor a solution to difficult questions raised at the end of life."
John McNeal, director of the State Council For Persons With Disabilities, said his organization has not analyzed the bill introduced Thursday but still "strongly opposes" the concept of assisted suicide.
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