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First State right-to-die bill to get second chance in new year

Delaware Public Media

A handful of states – and the District of Columbia – have passed right to die legislation. And Delaware may soon join that list.


First State lawmakers plan to revisit a right-to-die bill in the upcoming legislative session.


The Delaware law would allow terminally ill people with less than six months to live the option to end their lives at a time of their choosing.


State rep. Paul Baumbach (D-Newark) says the bill he plans to re-introduce can increase the quality of those final days for someone who is terminally ill with less than six months left to live.


That’s because they get to choose the time and circumstances of their death - when all family members can be there. Baumbach says the practice can also reduce unplanned hospice suicides.


“But when you have medical aid in dying in a state those cases go down to near zero and you have just greater usage of hospice, more cases of people dying where they want which is in their home as opposed to an institution," Baumbach said.


In the last legislative session, Baumbach heard concerns from both supporters and opponents. Delaware’s Medical Society has opposed the legislation, saying it jeopardizes the physician’s traditional role of healer.


He says many people weren’t aware of the safeguards in the legislation. It requires mental health professionals to determine the person is in the right frame of mind and that the decision isn’t clouded by depression or another mental illness.


Baumbach says it’s also not euthanasia.


“It isn’t a family member can do this, the doctor can’t do this," he said. "The patient has to be the one to self-administer this. It is patient-driven. It’s honoring the patient’s wishes.”


The right-to-die legislation would require people to be at least 18 years of age, and without any psychiatric conditions.


The law is modeled after Oregon’s law, which Oregon advocacy group Death with Dignity’s Executive Director Peg Sandeen says hasn’t been abused.


“We have 18 years of data in Oregon demonstrating that the law works as anticipated, that people are not targeted, that vulnerable populations are not at risk and that the law is a rarely used option," Sandeen said.


Sandeen expects at least 25 states will introduce similar right-to-die legislation in the new year.


Seven in 10 American adults support physician aid in dying, according to a 2015 Gallup Poll.

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