Bill allowing doctor-assisted suicide approved by Delaware lawmakers

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A bill allowing doctor-assisted suicide in Delaware won final passage in the state Senate on Tuesday after failing to clear that chamber last week.

The measure, which now goes to Democratic Gov. John Carney, passed on an 11-10 vote after the Democrat-led Senate voted by that same margin to reconsider the legislation and rescind last week’s vote.

Sen. Kyra Hoffner, a Smyrna-area Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, cast the deciding vote. On Thursday, after some fellow Democrats spoke passionately against the bill, she tearfully declined to vote on it.

“I’m sorry that I did not vote Thursday like I wanted to,” Hoffner said Tuesday, adding that she had time to reflect over the weekend and talk to both supporters and opponents of the bill. “It has been a very emotional weekend for me."

Lawmakers continued to air strong sentiments for and against the bill during Tuesday’s debate.

“How more despicable can we become?” asked GOP Sen. David Lawson, of Marydel.

Senate Minority Whip Brian Pettyjohn said assisted suicide suggests that “some lives are less worth living,” and is not supported by any major medical organization.

“Our response to suffering should not be to eliminate the sufferer,” said Pettyjohn, a Georgetown Republican. Pettyjohn said no major medical organization supports assisted-suicide.

Democrat Majority Leader Brian Townsend, of Newark, countered that assisted suicide is not about “eliminating” terminally ill patients, but “empowering” them. He also noted that the American Medical Association has taken a “neutral” position on assisted suicide, which has become a divisive issue within that organization, and that the Delaware Nurses Association supports the legislation.

As he did last week, Townsend noted that the vast majority of doctor-assisted suicides in other states involve people who are under hospice care. Currently, only 10 states, along with the District of Columbia, have laws legalizing doctor-assisted suicide.

There have been no documented cases of abuse or coercion involving doctor-assisted suicide since Oregon became the first state to allow it in 1997, according to Compassion & Choices, an advocacy group.

The Delaware bill passed each chamber of the General Assembly with only the bare majority of votes needed for passage. It is the latest iteration of legislation repeatedly introduced by Newark Democrat Rep. Paul Baumbach since 2015, and the only version to make it to a floor vote.

“This is an issue about allowing adults facing a terminal illness to make critical decisions about their last days,” Baumbach said in a statement released after Tuesday’s vote.

The legislation allows an adult resident of Delaware who is diagnosed with a terminal illness and expected to die within six months to request lethal prescription drugs from a doctor or advanced practice registered nurse who has primary responsibility for the terminal illness. A consulting physician or nurse would have to confirm the diagnosis and prognosis of the patient, who must have “decision-making capacity.”

The patient would have to be evaluated by a psychiatrist or a psychologist if any of the medical professionals was concerned that the patient lacks decision-making capacity. A person also would not qualify for doctor-assisted suicide solely because of age or disability.

The patient would have to make two oral requests for a lethal prescription, followed by a written request, and would have to wait at least 15 days after the initial request before receiving and self-administering the drugs. The attending doctor or nurse would have to wait at least 48 hours after the written request, which must be signed by two witnesses, before prescribing the drugs.