Legislation legalizing medical-aid-in-dying in Delaware awaits governor’s action

Gov. Carney said his position on the issue has been public since the bill was introduced. He has 10 days to act after his office gets the legislation.

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

Delaware state Capitol building in Dover. (Paul Brady/Bigstock)

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Delaware Governor John Carney could soon decide whether to sign legislation legalizing medical-assisted dying.

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.

The House passed the bill 21-14, with four Democrats absent in April. The vote in the Senate originally failed 9-9, but passed days later 11-10.

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This is the first time Carney, who is in his final year in office, will have to decide on this issue. He can sign the bill, veto it or allow it to take effect without signing it. Carney has 10 days to act on a bill after it is sent to him.

After initially telling WHYY News that the bill had been sent to the governor, a state House spokesperson said on Thursday that Democratic Rep. Paul Baumbach, the prime sponsor, said the bill has not yet been sent to the governor. A spokesperson for the governor said lawyers were reviewing the legislation. Requests to clarify their answers received no response.

Carney, who is Irish Catholic, said his position on the issue has been public since versions of the bill were introduced by Democratic Rep. Paul Baumbach in 2015.

According to the Dialog, Carney said he wouldn’t support the measure lawmakers were considering in 2022.

“I know this is an extremely difficult and personal issue for many of my constituents, and I have sympathy and compassion for those who are grappling with these painful questions,” Carney told The Dialog at that time. “Ultimately, though, I believe enabling physicians to facilitate suicide crosses a boundary that I’m just not comfortable crossing.”

The governor said he’ll review the current legislation to see if there are changes he’s not aware of and would also consider the bill, partly, from personal experience.

“My father passed away in the hospital with all of us there,” he said. “My mother who was close to dying, and has survived and is still living and she’s 93 years old.”

Carney added that like lawmakers, he’ll look at it from various angles.

“I think every member looks at it from their own perspective in terms of their moral compass, in terms of their religious background in terms of their own personal experience,” he said. “I think everybody has that both personal perspective, which comes from kind of their moral compass, and their experience, and that’s the approach I’ll take.”

If Carney vetoes the legislation, it’s not clear if the legislature would have the votes to override the veto. The bill did not pass with veto-proof majorities. Lawmakers would need 3/5ths of each chamber to vote yes to overturn a veto.

The legislation is called the Ron Silverio/Heather Block Delaware End-of-Life Options Act, named in honor of two advocates of the legislation.

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Supporters say it includes a number of safeguards, including ensuring patients are self-administering the medication, moral objection opt-outs for medical providers, waiting periods and mandatory mental health evaluations. Two doctors would be required to certify that the patient is mentally capable, making an informed decision and is acting voluntarily.

Democratic Sen. Stephanie Hansen, of Middletown, who supported the bill in the Senate, talked about her father enduring amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which leaves people unable to eat, breathe or move.

“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.”

A number of groups representing the disability community have opposed the legislation. They said they are concerned disabled people could be manipulated to end their lives, instead of receiving what could be expensive medical care.

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.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the changing statements from a state House spokesperson who initially told WHYY News that the bill had been sent to the governor.

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