D.C. Council to Hold Dying With Dignity Act Hearing Friday

The D.C. Council is beginning debate on a bill that would allow people within six months of death to self-administer a prescription that would end their life. 

D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh introduced her “Death with Dignity Act of 2015” in January. It would allow patients who are terminally ill and have certification from two physicians to obtain prescription drugs in order to end their lives.

Friday, Council holds its first hearing on the bill.

Compassion and Choices, a Denver, Colorado-based charity, supports death with dignity decisions and will testify at the hearing.

"My father died of prostate cancer in 2011 and he died a horrible death, in a lot of pain," Brandi Alexander, who has worked for Compassion and Choices for 11 years, said. "We need this because people are suffering.  There comes a point when medicine cannot help everyone."

However others, such as Samantha Crane, an autism activist, fight alongside the NO DC Suicide coalition. That group also will testify Friday.

"If we know that many people can live for several years after a terminal diagnosis, how many more people could have lived for several years but weren't given the chance?" Crane said. "The disability community is strongly against this legislation as a whole."

The proposal has safeguards to avoid ill or elderly people from being coerced into death, according to Cheh. 

"You can cancel at any time. The essence of this is a choice for people in that situation," Cheh said. 

The question of whether a terminally ill person should be allowed -- or helped -- to die has been a legal, moral and religious controversy for years.

It was personified again last year, when 29-year-old California resident Brittany Maynard, who was suffering from an inoperable brain tumor, released a video saying she wanted medical assistance in dying.

Maynard died on Nov. 1 after moving to Oregon, one of five states that currently authorizes the right to die. She died of a lethal dose of prescription drugs.

"I'm not killing myself. Cancer is killing me. I am choosing to go in a way that is less suffering and less pain," Maynard told NBC News during a phone interview on Oct. 9.

After Maynard’s death, the California Senate, her home state, passed a right-to-die bill, according to NBC 7 San Diego. However, the bill is struggling to pass in the Assembly due to pressures from religious groups, WTOP reported.

In most states, the only method to communicate any medial wishes is to write an advance directive, and detail your desired medical treatment in advance of any medical emergency, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

However, the directive is only effective when the patient is too ill or hurt to express their personal wishes -- and you cannot request the right to die directly. You can only request that doctors honor your wishes regarding treatment such as dialysis, breathing machines, resuscitation if your breathing or heart beat stops, tube feeding, or organ and tissue donation.

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