Legislator tries to block death penalty restoration

DOVER — One day before legislation reinstating the death penalty was to be heard in committee a Dover Democrat filed a bill to restrict the methods of execution.

In other legislative action a Newark Democrat introduced a bill Tuesday to legalize assisted suicide.

On the death penalty, House Bill 155, introduced by Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, would bar the state from executing convicted killers by lethal injection or hanging — effectively leaving the state without the means to carry out a death sentence.

Lawmakers are set to debate House Bill 125, which would put capital punishment back in place, in the House Judiciary Committee today. The bill is expected to be released to the full chamber.

Delaware has been without a death penalty since the state Supreme Court struck it down in August, concluding that a portion violated the right to a jury trial.

If both bills pass, the state would effectively be left with a death penalty but no way to perform executions, unless an amendment is tacked on to the death penalty bill.

The European Union has banned the export of certain drugs used for execution, creating difficulties for states trying to carry out death sentences. Arkansas executed four inmates in eight days last month because its supply was set to expire, and the Utah Legislature reinstated the firing squad in 2015.

Delaware was the last state to perform a hanging when it executed Billy Bailey in 1996.

Two years ago, a Department of Correction spokesman said the state did not have a supply of drugs for lethal injection. The department could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Rep. Lynn admitted he doesn’t expect his bill to pass but introduced it to make a statement.

“We are using a different variety of drugs which are not designed at all for the purpose of killing someone,” said the Democrat. “So, for example, when you have the lethal injection, it’s like three-drug cocktail. The first is an anesthetic so ostensibly you don’t feel what’s going to happen to you. So the anesthetic that they typically use the EU won’t supply to us, so we’re basically experimenting on people.”

His proposal had been in the works but was deliberately introduced Tuesday to coincide with House Bill 125.

Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, is opposed to capital punishment for convicted killers but has said he “wouldn’t rule out” backing a bill that allows for executing individuals who kill law enforcement officials.

Right to die

A Democratic lawmaker also introduced legislation that would legalize physician-assisted suicide Tuesday, even though the main sponsor admitted the measure probably will not pass.

A similar bill failed to make it out of committee two years ago.

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.

The proposal requires a waiting period between the request and the implementation, and the individual must be judged as being capable of making such a decision.

Supporters say the policy would allow terminally ill Delawareans to end their pain. But opponents argue it could lead to a sharp increase in the state’s suicide rate.

Paul Baumbach

“There are more individuals and there are more legislators who have more secondhand experiences with those who die painfully and therefore having options for them to end their suffering a little bit earlier is something that is not an academic question, but rather it’s a personal question,” said main sponsor Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark.

The Medical Society of Delaware is against the bill, noting in a statement it is “fundamentally inconsistent with the physician’s role as healer.”

Also, the group said, the measure could lead to doctors paying less attention to patients and providing a lower quality of care.

Rep. Baumbach does not think his bill will pass but believes the cause can gain momentum.

“The process is, you keep going back and you keep sharing information, you keep learning,” he said.

Six states currently allow some form of assisted suicide.

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