Democrat pushes physician-assisted suicide bill

DOVER — Legislation introduced Thursday would authorize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.

It’s the third time Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, has attempted to pass a “death with dignity” bill. The first try, in the 148th General Assembly, did not even see the bill make it out of committee. Similar legislation was released to the House floor in the following session but never got a vote.

This time, Rep. Baumbach hopes, will be different.

“This is a very delicate matter, which requires great sensitivity and care. The sensitivity of this issue, however, should not prevent us from addressing and discussing the need for this legislation,” he said in a statement.

“This is an issue about allowing adults facing a terminal illness to make critical decisions about their life. 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 Delaware End of Life Options Act provides terminally ill adults an additional option to decide whether they wish to lessen their pain and suffering. But it is not a decision that they can make haphazardly, or without numerous safeguards.”

The bill would only allow an adult to end his or her life if he or she has been diagnosed with “an incurable and irreversible disease, illness, or condition that as a medical probability, will result in death within 6 months.” Medication could only be dispensed if an individual has received consultation from multiple doctors, and no one could ask for medication on someone else’s behalf.

Paul Baumbach

The legislation does not specify what medications would be used.

Three requests, with mandated waiting periods, are included in the bill, which also specifies that no one can seek assisted suicide solely because of age or a disability.

The legislation spells out a formal process that seeks to ensure an individual is acting under his or her own will and is of sound mind.

The Department of Health and Social Services would be tasked with keeping records relating to assisted suicides. A death certificate for someone who opts to end his or her own life would list the cause as the underlying terminal illness.

“That law would’ve made this journey much easier if I had known from the beginning that it was an option. I may never have decided to use it, but by having it available, I could have spent more time living than worrying about dying,” Ron Silverio, an advocate who died last year after a five-year fight with prostate cancer, wrote on the website of the nonprofit Compassion & Choices, which supports assisted suicide for patients with terminal illnesses.

While supporters say the measure contains sufficient safeguards and empowers an individual to make a decision to end his or her personal suffering, opponents like the Medical Society of Delaware and the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington contend it could be misused and goes against what doctors and caregivers should be doing.

“Control over the manner and timing of a person’s death has not been and should not be a goal of medicine. Physician-assisted suicide is neither a therapy nor a solution to difficult questions raised at the end of life,” the Medical Society said in a statement.

“It is critical that the medical profession redouble its efforts in providing optimal treatment at end-of-life to limit suffering, both physical and psychological. Physicians must resist the natural tendency to withdraw physically and emotionally from their terminally ill patients.

“Requests for physician-assisted suicide should be a signal to the physician that the patient’s needs are not being met and further evaluation to identify the elements contributing to the patient’s suffering is necessary. Interdisciplinary intervention including specialty consultation, spiritual care, family counseling, and other modalities should be sought as indicated.”

Six states have assisted suicide laws, according to the Death with Dignity National Center, with four of them being approved in the past six years.

Oregon, the first state to pass such a law, reported 2,217 prescriptions written there between 1997 and 2018, with 1,459 people dying from the provided medication.

The measure is scheduled to be heard in the House Health and Human Development Committee Wednesday.

Other legislation
Announced but not filed Thursday is a bill that would amend the state constitution to make clear parents have a “fundamental right” to the “care, custody and control of their child.”

Many Delawareans were incensed in 2017 after the state unveiled a proposed regulation that would have allowed students to identify as a different gender or race without parental consent or notice. The measure was intended to protect transgender students, but after a firestorm of criticism, officials modified the proposal to require parents be informed first.

That change satisfied some people but still left many opponents fuming, and supporters of the original regulation argued the new version was contrary to its stated purpose.

The Department of Education ultimately pulled the proposal.

The bill announced last week is expected to be filed in the coming days. It would add to state law a line reading “Neither the state, nor any agency of the state, nor any political subdivision of the state, shall infringe on the parental right as provided under this article without demonstrating that the interest of the government as applied to the parent or child is a compelling interest addressed by the least restrictive means.”

In a statement, Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said the bill is not a partisan measure but simply “is about recognizing that as a parent you have the primary responsibility for raising your children, making decisions you believe to be in their best interests, and teaching them the values you believe are appropriate.”

Gov. John Carney’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the governor’s views on the measure.

Also filed Thursday was a bill that would enable boards of education to annually raise local school taxes equal to the percentage change in the federal Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers or up to 2 percent — without a referendum.

Because property values have not been updated in decades, some districts end up going to referenda almost on an annual basis. Christina School District, for instance, has had three failed referenda over the last four years.

Expected to be (finally) introduced this week is one very heavily anticipated bill: marijuana legalization. While the specifics of the measure are not yet publicly known, the proposal contains substantial differences from the marijuana bill that failed in the House last year.

Delawarean for POTUS

A Delaware resident announced his candidacy for president last week — and it’s not Joe Biden.

Mike Katz, a Democrat who served in the state Senate in northern New Castle County from 2008 to 2012, announced last week he is campaigning for the presidency.

According to his campaign, his bid comes following “months of talking directly to New Hampshire voters about how to restore respect and civility to America’s politics.”

Does his announcement give Delaware the most presidential candidates per capita of any state?

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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