NATIONAL NEWS

Legislation allowing doctor-assisted suicide narrowly clears Delaware House, heads to state Senate

Apr 18, 2024, 3:22 PM

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A bill allowing doctor-assisted suicide in Delaware narrowly cleared the Democrat-led House on Thursday and now goes to the state Senate for consideration.

The bill is the latest iteration of legislation that has been repeatedly introduced by Newark Democrat Paul Baumbach since 2015, and it is the only proposal to make it to a floor vote. After lengthy debate, lawmakers voted 21-16 for the measure, which needed at least 21 affirmative votes for passage.

Among those voting for the bill was Republican Rep. Kevin Hensley of Townsend, who voted against the proposal in previous legislative sessions.

“I did not get confused,” Hensley assured fellow lawmakers after the vote. Hensley said his perspective on the issue changed after his mother, who lived in California, opted for physician-assisted suicide a year ago.

“This was probably one of the toughest votes I’ve ever had to make,” said Hensley, the only GOP lawmaker to vote for the bill.

California is one of 10 states, along with the District of Columbia, that have laws legalizing medically assisted suicide.

Several Republican lawmakers expressed ethical concerns about the Delaware legislation. They also questioned the need for it, given advances in hospice and palliative care in recent years.

Baumbach said the measure is not intended to replace palliative or hospice care, but to complement them. Data from other states indicate that hospice care is involved in the vast majority of cases involving doctor-assisted suicide, he added.

Baumbach said the “end-of-life option” offered in the bill gives terminally ill individuals certainty that they can choose to end their pain if it becomes greater than what hospice or palliative care can alleviate.

“This puts the choice in the dying person’s hands to determine whether or not they wish to self-administer the medicine,” he said.

The legislation allows an adult resident of Delaware who is diagnosed with a terminal illness and expected to die within six months to request lethal prescription drugs from a doctor or advanced practice registered nurse who has primary responsibility for the terminal illness. A consulting physician or nurse would have to confirm the diagnosis and prognosis of the patient, who must have “decision-making capacity.”

The patient would have to be evaluated by a psychiatrist or a psychologist if any of the medical professionals involved is concerned that he or she lacks decision-making capacity. A person also would not qualify for doctor-assisted suicide solely because of age or disability.

The patient would have to make two oral requests for a lethal prescription, followed by a written request, and would have to wait at least 15 days after the initial request before receiving the drugs. The attending doctor or nurse would have to wait at least 48 hours after the written request, which must be signed by two witnesses, before prescribing the drugs.

The bill states that any provision in a contract, will or other agreement that would affect whether an individual could make or rescind a request for lethal prescription “is not valid.” It also states that requesting, prescribing or dispensing the lethal medication “does not, for any purpose, constitute elder abuse, suicide, assisted-suicide, homicide, or euthanasia.”

The legislation goes further to assert that the act of killing oneself with self-administered prescription medication does not invalidate any part of an insurance policy or annuity.

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Legislation allowing doctor-assisted suicide narrowly clears Delaware House, heads to state Senate