Medical aid in dying bill heads to governor’s office for action

It’s unclear what action Gov. John Carney will take. This is the first time the bill has passed both chambers since it was introduced in 2015.

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Delaware State Capitol Building in Dover. (Paul Brady/Bigstock)

The state Capitol in Dover, Delaware. (benkrut/BigStock)

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This story was supported by a statehouse coverage grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Legislation legalizing medical aid in dying in Delaware is headed to the governor’s desk after narrowly passing in the Senate.

Sometimes known as “physician-” or “medically assisted suicide,” the legislation would allow terminally ill people with less than six months to live to request and ingest medication to end their lives. Two doctors would be required to certify that the patient is mentally capable, making an informed decision and is acting voluntarily.

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The bill passed the Delaware Senate on an 11-10 vote Tuesday after failing 9-9 last week. Senate sponsor Sen. Bryan Townsend changed his vote from “yes” to “no” so he could bring the bill up again Tuesday.

The Senate debate was emotional and heated at times, with senators discussing family members’ illnesses and personal religious beliefs.

Democratic Sen. Stephanie Hansen, of Middletown, who supported the bill, talked about the pain her father endured with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The illness causes a person to lose the ability to eat, speak, move and breathe. Hansen said people call it a monster for what it does to the body.

“Every day after he got to a particular point, he would say to my mother ‘Sara Lee, please take the pistol out of the nightstand that we keep next to our bed and shoot me. This needs to be over,’” Hansen said. “Every single day.”

Hansen said she disputed the notion that medical aid in dying was “giving up.”

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“This bill is about taking control,” she said. “Finally having the ability to take control over your own final chapter, writing how your final chapter is going to read.”

Republican Sen. Dave Lawson, of Marydel, who opposed the legislation, said the Senate action is contrary to what God teaches, which is that life is sacred and should be protected.

“Yet Delaware has become the place to come to be killed,” Lawson said. “To kill, to mutilate, to gender-affirming care and then to compost a human body. How more despicable have we become?”

Sen. Kyra Hoffner, a Smyrna-area Democrat, did not vote the first time around, but cast the deciding “yes” vote Tuesday. She said she wanted to take the weekend to talk with her constituents to make sure she was representing their views because of her personal support for physician-assisted suicide.

“I believe people should have a choice in their time of need,” she said. “Doctors should be your partner in health and death.”

A number of groups representing the disability community opposed the legislation, which is named the Ron Silverio/Heather Block Delaware End of Life Options Act in honor of two advocates of the bill who died without end-of-life options. They said they are concerned disabled people would be manipulated to end their lives instead of being given what could be expensive medical care.

The prime sponsor, Rep. Paul Baumbach — a Democrat from Newark who is not running for re-election in November — has been pushing for the legislation since 2015.

The House passed the bill in April on a 21-16 vote.

It’s unclear what Gov. John Carney will do.

If it becomes law, Delaware would be the 11th state nationwide to enact an end-of-life provision, joining other states like New Jersey, Vermont and Oregon.

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