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Delaware lawmakers approve medical aid-in-dying bill

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(The Center Square) — Delaware physicians to administer lethal doses of medicine to terminally ill patients under a proposal sent to Gov. John Carney’s desk for consideration.

The legislation, which narrowly cleared the state Senate by a vote of 11-10 on Wednesday, would provide eligible adults with less than six months to live the option to obtain a prescription for medication that can end their lives under specific conditions. The state House of Representatives approved the bill by a vote of 21-16 two weeks ago.

“This is an issue about allowing adults facing a terminal illness to make critical decisions about their last days. Many people in the last stages of life wish to make their own choices regarding their life and their suffering,” the bill’s chief sponsors, state Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, said in a statement.

Critics of medical aid in dying laws, including medical and religious groups and advocates for those with disabilities, say misdiagnoses are common. They’ve urged lawmakers not to approve the practice. Terminally ill patients suffer from depression, they noted, and may irrationally decide to end their lives.

Others argue that legalizing physician-assisted suicide would encourage suicide among those suffering from depression and other mental health issues.

“People with disabilities often face significant societal and economic challenges, and the availability of assisted suicide might lead some to feel coerced into ending their lives prematurely due to lack of adequate support and resources,” Senate Republican Whip Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, who voted against the bill, said in remarks ahead of its passage.

But lawmakers who supported the proposal to authorize the procedure say it includes safeguards to prevent abuse and rules to keep doctors from prescribing lethal drugs to those with mental health issues or impaired judgment.

A 1997 U.S. Supreme Court ruling left the issue largely up to states. Thirty-seven states have since banned the practice, either at the ballot box or by legislative act.

But at least eight states, including Vermont and Maine, have approved medical aid-in-dying laws, according to the advocacy group Death with Dignity.

A 2022 survey found that nearly three out of four Delaware physicians support medical aid-in-dying, while 70% said they want the option of medical aid in dying for themselves, according to advocates.

Kim Callinan, president/CEO of Compassion & Choices Action Network, urged Carney to hear “the pleas of terminally ill constituents” who want him to sign the bill into law.

“Even if this is not an end-of-life care option that Gov. Carney would choose for himself, the data shows that as drafted, this bill harms nobody,” she said in a statement. “I hope he will respect the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Delaware voters and physicians who support this legislation and allow the Delaware End of Life Option Act to become law.”

Carney has 10 days to sign the bill, veto it or send it back to lawmakers with recommended changes. He could also allow the bill to become law without his signature.

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