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Delaware Senate narrowly votes to legalize medical aid in dying, Carney not committed to signing

State Sen. Kyra Hoffner (D-Dover) speaks in support of legislation to legalize medical aid in dying on Tuesday on the Senate Floor in Legislative Hall.
Sarah Petrowich
Delaware Public Media
State Sen. Kyra Hoffner (D-Dover) speaks in support of legislation to legalize medical aid in dying on Tuesday on the Senate Floor in Legislative Hall.

Delaware’s General Assembly passes a bill legalizing medical aid in dying after a second vote in the state Senate.

On Thursday, the Senate narrowly rejected a bill to legalize medical aid in dying, but the bill was reconsidered Tuesday on a special procedure and passed by just one vote.

The legislation would allow a terminally ill adult to self-administer medication to end their life after making two verbal and one written request — a guardian or surrogate healthcare decision maker cannot make the request on the adult’s behalf.

Physician-assisted death is currently legal in 10 other states and Washington D.C.

One of the bill’s sponsors, State Sen. Kyra Hoffner (D-Dover), was visibly emotional Thursday when she decided not to vote on the legislation, but during Tuesday’s floor debate, she thanked her colleagues and advocates of the bill for helping solidify her 'yes' vote.

“It has been a very emotional weekend for me as I went and talked to as many as I could – either supporting or not – with my final conversation being with Sen. Ennis so that I can vote ‘yes’ with a clear mind that I did my job," she said.

Sen. Stephanie Hansen (D-Middletown) spoke in favor of the bill, relaying the story of her late father who suffered from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). She explained he would have liked to have had the option of utilizing medical aid in dying during his battle with the progressive neurodegenerative disease.

"Somebody mentioned in this chamber this bill was bad because it was just giving up, and that really struck me deep. I know that whoever made that comment did not mean it to be offensive, but it was offensive," she said. "This bill isn't about giving up — using your ability to give up. This bill is about taking control — finally having the ability to take control over your own final chapter, writing how your final chapter is going to read under your own terms."

Hansen is referring to comments made by State Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Marydel), who continued to voice his disapproval of the bill during the debate, comparing medical aid in dying to other bills he has opposed this legislative session, like expanding abortion services in the state, protecting gender affirming care and legalizing human composting as a post-death alternative to cremation or burial.

"Delaware has become the place to come to, to be killed, to kill, to mutilate through gender affirming care and then to compost a human body. How more despicable can we become?" he said.

Senate Republican Whip Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown) also spoke in opposition of the legislation, citing ethical concerns as well as the effects it could have on vulnerable populations.

“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," Pettyjohn said.

State Rep. Paul Baumbach (D-Newark), who has been championing this legislation since 2017 and is not seeking reelection this year, says he his proud to have seen the consideration legislators went through before taking the final vote.

"I am so, so appreciative of my colleagues in the Senate, both those who voted for and those who voted against, in that, they looked at the issue and they looked at it deeply. They looked inside and spoke to others, and they listened to each other, and I appreciate that," he said. "And I appreciate that the voters put in — members of the Senate — such that a majority of them said, 'we think that the government should not get between a dying person and their healthcare professional.'"

The bill ultimately passed 11-10 with no Republican support and heads to Gov. John Carney for signature.

There is no indication yet from the Carney administration on if he will sign the bill into law.

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.
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