Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Physician-assisted suicide bill advances out of Delaware House committee

Delaware Public Media

Despite bipartisan opposition, a bill legalizing physician-assisted suicide in Delaware will move to the House floor.

A House committee signed off on the proposal from Rep. Paul Baumbach (D-Newark) along a party line vote – even though some Democrats say they still have concerns and won't vote for the bill in its current form.

An emotional, 90-minute hearing showed a divided public, with disability rights activists saying they’d feel pressured to commit suicide, while others with degenerative diseases begged for the option.

Dawn Lentz, for example, was diagnosed with spinocerebellar ataxia. Those with the disorder retain their mental awareness while they can lose control over their body.

Lentz says she fears her final months.

“I will watch my loved ones cry for me. I’ll listen to hushed conversations about me from a tomb-like body. I won’t be able to communicate – I’ll only be able to moan incomprehensible gibberish,” she said.

Others testified they had family members and friends survive terminal illnesses for many years, saying a diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean a death sentence.

Terri Hancherick, a disability rights advocate, strongly opposes the bill, saying she feels no regulations could ever prevent someone from being nudged into suicide.

“They are frequently coerced into making decisions that they believe will make a family member or a healthcare provider happy. It is impossible to legislate the safeguards to make sure these people are safe from the dangers of assisted suicide,” Hancherick said.

The bill would require multiple doctor visits and waiting periods from the time of the initial consultation until the point at which someone could fill a prescription to end their own lives.

Five states and Washington D.C. have legalized the practice.

The bill has gained quiet support since Baumbach first proposed it two years ago.

He says he’s willing to address the concerns from the disability community and that it might hit the floor later this month before the General Assembly recesses for the remainder of 2017.

Related Content