Medication assisted suicide gets broad support in Delaware poll

Cancer patient Judy Govatos, of Wilmington, is an advocate for allowing terminally ill people to end their lives with medical help. (Erin Reynolds/WHYY)

Cancer patient Judy Govatos, of Wilmington, is an advocate for allowing terminally ill people to end their lives with medical help. (Erin Reynolds/WHYY)

New Jersey and Maine became the eighth and ninth states to allow people with terminal illnesses to end their lives with medical help in 2019. Now, lawmakers in Delaware are hoping a new poll showing broad support for a similar measure will translate into legislation in the First State this year.

The poll of 780 likely Delaware voters found 72% supported a bill allowing doctors to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients. The poll was commissioned by the national advocacy group Compassion & Choices, and conducted by Washington, D.C.-based GBAO Strategies.

The poll showed a broad level of support throughout the state and across political parties.

“I am delighted to see that Delawareans are so strongly supportive of this bill,” said Judy Govatos, a Wilmington resident with stage 4 lymphoma that’s spread to her bone marrow who has advocated in favor of the legislation. “I can deal with death, we’re all going to die, but I don’t see that either I or anybody else should have to suffer in order to die.”

Her support for what advocates call “medical aid in dying” doesn’t come lightly. Govatos has been through multiple surgeries, two rounds of chemotherapy and all the side effects that causes.

“My life and how I will live my life and my death depends on whether we get this bill passed or not,” she said.

State Rep. Paul Baumbach introduced a bill last year that would allow terminally ill Delaware residents to acquire and self-administer lethal medication, but a committee hearing was never scheduled. He is emboldened by the support shown in the poll to make another push.

“It’s not just that this is something that’s supported by a majority. We’re talking about a 3-to-1 margin of support,” Baumbach said. “When I speak with my colleagues, there’s often a question of, ‘Yeah, I know you’re passionate about this, Paul, but I gotta care about what the people in my district think.’”

If passed, the legislation would allow the life-ending medication to be prescribed if two doctors affirm that the patient “has decision-making capacity, is making an informed decision, and is acting voluntarily.”

Baumbach is optimistic the new poll will improve the bill’s chances in Dover.

“We have documented very, very clearly and unequivocally that this has such incredibly broad support,” he said.

Major opponents of the measure include the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington and the Medical Society of Delaware.

“Control over the manner and timing of a person’s death has not been and should not be a goal of medicine,” John Goodill, chairman of the Medical Society of Delaware’s Committee on Ethics, said in an editorial published earlier this year in the Wilmington News Journal.

Baumbach hopes to get a committee hearing scheduled on the bill as lawmakers return to Dover following a session break next week.

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