Terminally ill people in Washington, D.C., will be able to obtain medicine to end their lives in a “humane and peaceful manner” after Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office announced the rules and regulations to implement a 2016 ordinance.
The Death with Dignity Act of 2016, passed by the D.C. Council in November 2016, was introduced by Councilmember Mary Cheh and supported by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Attorney General Karl Racine, and other District stakeholders. Six other states have authorized similar procedures.
However, a U.S. House panel approved a measure that would repeal the Death with Dignity Act in D.C. It still needs to be approved in the House and Senate and signed by President Donald Trump for the repeal to go into effect.
The D.C. Department of Health will regulate and oversee the implementation of the Death with Dignity Act of 2016. The department’s primary responsibilities include providing educational resources on how the Death with Dignity process works and clarifying the requirements that must be followed by both physicians and patients. Participation in the Death with Dignity program is voluntary for physicians and pharmacists, and medical providers do not have to provide prescriptions or medications to patients.
End of life medication can be requested by a terminally-ill patient who is a resident of Washington, D.C., is at least 18 years or older, is under the care of a physician and is expected to live for no more than six months. The patient cannot be suffering from impaired judgment as a result of depression or a psychiatric or psychological condition and must be capable of making the decision, expressing an intent to take a medication that will cause death and must be physically capable of taking the medication, meaning they cannot be assisted by another person.
Patients must make an initial oral request, a written request, and then a second oral request, and the second oral request cannot be made any sooner than 15 days after the first oral request. For purposes of the Death with Dignity Act, oral requests can be made in person, through sign language, over the telephone, or through an electronic speech generation device, or, if the person cannot speak, use sign language, or communicate over the phone, he or she may write his or her wishes in the presence of the attending physician.
The written request must be made after seeing the treating physician, and between the oral requests, on the D.C. Department of Health approved form. The DOH forms and more information can be found online at doh.dc.gov/page/death-dignity-act-2016.