D.C. Death with Dignity Act becomes law

Capitol Hill
Efforts by some members of Congress to overturn the District of Columbia's Death with Dignity Act have failed.

The District of Columbia joins six states that now allow physician-assisted suicide, as an effort to overturn its Death with Dignity Act has failed.

The review period for Congress to overturn the District’s law expired Friday, so terminally ill residents now have the option to seek physician-assisted suicide, according to the nonprofit Death with Dignity organization.

However, the Republican-led effort on Capitol Hill to overturn the District’s law has supporters worried there will be a broader effort to ban right-to-die laws, according to Kaiser Health News. So far this year, 21 states have introduced legislation to enact aid-in-dying laws.

The growing movement, which raises ethical questions for many physicians, allows terminally ill patients to request a doctor to prescribe medications to end their lives.

While the fight in the District of Columbia is over for now, Death with Dignity said it is not celebrating but gearing up for the next round. “If it looks like we are not running a full victory lap today, there’s a reason,” the group said in an announcement. Members of Congress who failed to block the law through the disapproval process will now attempt to use Congress’ power over the District’s budget to gut the funding for the law, the group noted.

President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch—who is on record as opposing assisted death—escalated fears that right-to-die laws may be challenged on a federal level.

Since Oregon passed the Death With Dignity Act in 1997, four additional states—Washington, Vermont, California and most recently, Colorado—have passed laws that allow physician-assisted death for terminally ill adults. The practice is also legal in Montana through a state supreme court decision.

Doctors with the advocacy group End of Life Washington, which helps guide decisions for prescribers where physician-assisted suicide is allowed, are working to come up with a more effective drug mixture, according to a separate KHN report. The doctors are trying to come up with an alternative to the sedative Seconal, after a Canadian company raised the price to more than $3,000 per dose, the report said. Doctors say alternatives are taking too long to work for some patients, and they are now recommending a different drug mixture.