Assisted suicide bill sent to House floor


DOVER — A House committee on Wednesday released to the full chamber a controversial proposal that would legalize physician-assisted suicide. The bill now awaits a floor vote.

House Bill 160, also known as the Delaware End of Life Options Act, would allow an individual with a terminal disease — defined as “an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, produce death within six months” — to end his or her life with the aid of a doctor.

About three dozen people spoke before the Health & Human Development Committee Wednesday, with passions evident on both sides.

Supporters, many of whom are suffering from a terminal illness or had a family member who died slowly and painfully, spoke of wanting to end hardship and let people die with dignity. Opponents argued life should be protected and said the measure could be abused.

The bill does not “condone suicide,” said main sponsor Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, who introduced the legislation after hearing from constituents.

“A vote for HB 160 is a vote for the suffering, dying Delaware residents at the end of their lives,” he said.

The proposal requires the individual be judged by a doctor as being capable of making a decision to die, and it mandates a waiting period between the request and the implementation. The person wishing to end his or her life would have to self-administer the medication, and a physician could not prescribe the drugs if the patient is believed to be affected by “a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment.”

Some speakers expressed concerns individuals might be convinced to end their lives against their will, such as if they fear they would otherwise be a burden on caregivers.

“It is impossible to legislate the safeguards to make sure these people are safe from the dangers of assisted suicide,” Terri Hancherick said.

The Medical Society of Delaware opposes the bill, and one member of the group said Wednesday he fears the physician-aided suicide could lead to less focus on treatment and cures.

“These practices are fundamentally inconsistent with the physician’s role as a healer,” Dr. Prayus Tailor said.

Oregon, the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide, reported in 2016 that since the law went into effect in 1997, 1,749 people received medication. Of those, 1,127 opted to use it to end their lives.

In Delaware, a measure similar to House Bill 160 failed to make it out of committee two years ago. This time around, there was more support, although the bill has several more hurdles to clear.

Several lawmakers said they have concerns about the legislation but agreed to vote it out of committee to continue discussion.

Six states allow assisted suicide. Adding Delaware to that list, several people said Wednesday, would be a relief for many sufferers of terminal diseases.

“To keep someone alive against their wish is the ultimately indignity,” Thomas LaFollette said.

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