By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON – District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed into law a bill allowing doctors to prescribe lethal medications to terminally ill patients who want to end their lives.
Congress has to approve all laws in the district and has 30 days to review the bill, which was signed Dec. 20. The earliest the law could take effect is October.
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The "Death with Dignity Act" – which a majority of the 13-member City Council approved on a voice vote Nov. 15 – permits physicians in the District of Columbia to legally prescribe the drugs to patients who have been deemed mentally competent and who have received a terminal diagnosis of six months or less.
A similar bill passed the New Jersey state Assembly in October. The bill, known as the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act (S2474) could come up for a vote in the New Jersey Senate as early as Jan. 9 or Jan. 12.
“We certainly oppose Senate bill 2474 because of our belief in the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death,” the New Jersey Catholic Conference of bishops wrote in a letter Dec. 16 to New Jersey’s 40 state senators. “However, it is important to note that other flaws with the bill have led many groups, including those who do not embrace any particular faith, to oppose [the bill]. The risks and potential unforeseen consequences of passing [it] clearly are significant.”
The letter outlines several unintended possibilities of the bill’s passage, including the potential denial of health care in favor of low-cost lethal drugs.
After the vote in the District of Columbia, Michael Scott, director of the D.C. Catholic Conference, blasted the council's decision.
"Once again, council members who voted for the legislation failed to address serious public policy concerns raised by the broad and diverse coalition opposing the legislation," he said in a statement.
D.C. Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette M. Alexander, chairperson of the Health and Human Service Committee, and Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau offered the only votes opposing the measure.
Prior to the vote, the council approved an amendment proposed by Alexander that requires the Department of Health to include data from all patients who submit written or oral requests for the lethal medication in an annual statistical report. Prior to the amendment, the legislation only required that the report include data from a sample of information sent by doctors.
If the law takes effect, the district would be the nation's seventh jurisdiction to allow doctors to assist the terminally ill to take their own lives. Five states – Vermont, Oregon, Washington state, Montana and New Mexico – previously allowed assisted suicide. On Nov. 8, Colorado residents approved a proposition legalizing physician-assisted suicide there.
Similar physician-assisted suicide laws have been introduced and have failed in 22 states.
To contact New Jersey's state lawmakers to stop S2474 , visit the New Jersey Catholic Conference at njcatholic.org/faith-in-action.