By Robert Milch
In a jaw-dropping display of hypocrisy, ineptitude and deceit, the Republican-dominated House Appropriations Committee voted on July 13 to block implementation of the District of Columbia’s Death With Dignity law. The law would allow terminally ill patients with decision-making capacity to access physician aid in dying.
In a 2015 poll, 67 percent of residents of the district approved medical aid in dying. A bill modeled on Oregon’s law, after public input and debate, passed local health committee review in 2016, twice passed votes in the District Council, 11-2, and was signed into law by the mayor in December.
The federal Home Rule Law mandates congressional review within 30 days of any law passed by the district. Congress missed the deadline.
The law went into effect July 17, the seventh locale where aid in dying is legal.
But on July 13, Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, an anesthesiologist endorsed by the tea party, introduced an amendment to the federal spending bill that would invalidate implementing the law. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate. Both await further action.
In advocacy for his amendment, Harris demonstrated either willful ignorance or outright demagoguery in multiple false claims.
Among these, he labels medical aid in dying “suicide,” when the law pointedly states it doesn’t authorize or condone suicide per se, and the American Psychological Association notes “profound psychological differences” between the two acts.
He warns “tourists” will flock to Washington and abuse the law by “injecting” medication, when only district residents can avail themselves of services and the medication must be taken by mouth, unassisted. Without substantiation, he claims the district law is “worse” than other states’ even though it has the same foundation and mandates that have proven safety in practice elsewhere, over decades of application.
But most infuriating is the willingness of Harris and his colleagues, for their own ideological purposes, to abuse the appropriations process to foil the collective electoral will of the people and the individual patient’s autonomy.
By this action, returning authority to the states is shown to be a ruse, and the dire implications for subsequently structured Medicare and Medicaid funding are sobering. So much for the promises of less government in our lives.
A socially conservative philosophy alone does not justify how this amendment would ruthlessly achieve its end. It behooves those who object to this bullying governmental over-reach to inform their representatives of their position and demand they vote against this amendment.
We owe it to the citizens of the District of Columbia. We owe it to ourselves.
Robert Milch, M.D., of Williamsville, is co-founder and former medical director of the Center for Hospice & Palliative Care.