House committee acts to overturn Death with Dignity law

The Senate side of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Congress holds the fate of the District of Columbia's right-to-die law.

It will take quick action by Congress and President Donald Trump to overturn a District of Columbia law that allows physician-assisted suicide.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Monday voted 22-14 to move ahead with a joint resolution to overturn the District’s Death with Dignity Act. Both the House and Senate would have to vote to block the law by Friday, when a 30-day congressional review period ends, according to The Washington Post.

But Senate Democrats could put up a long fight, the publication said. If approved by the House and Senate, the repeal of the District’s law would then require the president’s signature.

The battle over the D.C. law pitted advocates and opponents of medical aid-in-dying, continuing the division between Republicans and Democrats and raising the question of whether Congress should use constitutional power to overturn a local law. 

The law would allow mentally capable, terminally ill adults to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they can administer to end their lives. Proponents of assisted-suicide, including the Compassion & Choices group, advocates and terminally ill D.C. residents, rallied outside the Capitol yesterday, some carrying protest signs.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said the District’s law raises a moral issue that merits federal intervention. “Our country should never facilitate, encourage or tacitly accept measures that prematurely end the lives of its people,” he told the Post.

Assisted suicide is legal in just six states and the D.C. fight is the latest fight over the issue. “Lawmakers who do not represent D.C. residents should not take away the peace of mind that this option brings to terminally ill adults knowing they can end their suffering if it becomes intolerable,” Washington resident Mary Klein, who has incurable ovarian cancer, said in a statement.

The ethical questions surrounding physician-assisted suicide are also back in the headlines with President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch, who is on record as opposing assisted death.