The District of Columbia has begun implementing its physician-assisted suicide law in spite of a looming clash with the Republican-controlled Congress.
City officials announced that the rules and regulations required to implement the D.C. Council's "right-to-die" bill took effect on Monday, the Washington Post reports. The Council passed its bill 11-2 in November.
The bill permits doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients. In order to be eligible, one must be over 18, and with less than six months to live. Patients must also make two requests 15 days apart, and ingest the drugs themselves. Two witnesses must attest that the patient is not acting under duress.
The D.C. Health Department launched a website providing information about D.C. assisted suicide as part of the law's rollout. Physicians can register online to enroll in the program; a health department FAQ makes clear that physician participation is voluntary, not mandatory.
Although D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's (D.) office is proceeding with implementation of the "death with dignity" program, it could run into road blocks in Congress, which has substantial oversight over D.C. city law.
House Republicans narrowly failed to pass a bill in February that would have blocked assisted suicide in Washington. But Rep. Andy Harris (R., Md.), who called the D.C. bill "poorly written" and "misguided," is intending to fight the matter in the House budget process.
Harris introduced an amendment to the House Appropriations Committee that would repeal the "death with dignity" law wholesale. The amendment passed along party lines, with the exception of two defecting Republicans who sided with the minority. A Harris spokeswoman said that the passage of the amendment, which will still need to be approved by the full Congress, signals an end for D.C.'s law.
"The congressman’s amendment repeals the law, so while D.C. could implement the Death With Dignity Act, it would be repealed once the appropriations process is complete and the bills are passed," she said.
Non-voting representative for D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.) has promised to try to stop all D.C.-related measures in the budget when the bill goes before the full House.
For the time being, however, the District is joining six states – California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Montana, and Washington – that permit physician-assisted suicide.