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Committee stalls physician-assisted suicide bill

Delaware Public Media

House lawmakers tabled a bill in committee Wednesday that would’ve legalized physician-assisted suicide in Delaware.

It seems to be the furthest the proposal will get this year, as sponsoring Rep. Paul Baumbach (D-Newark) says it just doesn’t have enough support to carry it past the committee process.

“I am open to having it come up again next year, but given it’s an election year and clearly this is a contentious issue, I wouldn’t be surprised if it waits until 2017 to move again,” Baumbach said.

The bill is modeled off of similar legislation that passed in Oregon more than a decade ago.

Anyone looking to participate in the program would need to get two opinions from doctors. They would both have to agree that the patient has a terminal illness and would be dead within six months.

If at any time either of those doctors suspect an underlying mental health condition, that person would have to undergo a psychological screening.

Then you have two separate waiting periods before one of the doctors would fill a prescription for the lethal drugs.

The committee hearing lasted about 45 minutes and nearly everyone who spoke, whether it was an interest group or an individual, came out against it.

Religiously affiliated organizations, like the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington strongly oppose the measure. Rev. Leonard Klein says similar systems in Europe have had unintended consequences.

“Physician-assisted suicide is not a slippery slope. It is a cliff. If you step off it, you will hit bottom,” Klein said.

The Delaware Family Policy Council has also spoken out, sending several emails to their supporters to contact elected officials over the past few weeks.

“Every day, we’re seeing new advances in medicine and what may not be cured today may be cured tomorrow,” said Rep. Joe Miro (R-Pike Creek Valley). He says he will never support the bill at any stage of the legislative process.

Vicki George was one of the few supporters.

She’s a quadriplegic with multiple sclerosis who says she still has a valuable life at this point, but she says she believes it will eventually come to a point where she won’t get any enjoyment out of it anymore.

“There will be a time in my life where I will not want to continue to live this type of life. It’s a very pragmatic decision," said George. "It’s a matter of choice and in hearing some of the testimonies today, it made me very angry that somebody would actually take that choice away from me and it’s really nobody’s right for them to do that.”

After the hearing, Baumbach said he will try to establish a task force to study the issue further and how it could better integrate with existing programs like hospice care.

That legislation hasn’t been drafted yet, but he says it’ll come later this year.

Baumbach says he hopes it will give Delawareans more time to consider the issue.

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