Medical aid-in-dying bill stalls in Delaware Senate

HB 140 could come back to life

By Logan B. Anderson
Posted 6/24/24

An act that would allow physician-assisted suicide stalled in the state Senate on Thursday.

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Medical aid-in-dying bill stalls in Delaware Senate

HB 140 could come back to life


DOVER — An act that would allow physician-assisted suicide stalled in the state Senate on Thursday.

House Bill 140, if enacted as written, permits a terminally ill individual who is an adult resident of Delaware to request and self-administer medication to end their life in a humane and dignified way.

To get the medication, all the patient’s attending physicians or attending advanced-practice registered nurses, as well as a consulting physician or qualified nurse practitioner, must agree on the individual’s diagnosis and prognosis and believe he or she has decision-making capacity, is making an informed decision and is acting voluntarily.

The bill, brought by Rep. Paul S. Baumbach, D-Newark, narrowly passed the House of Representatives in April, with a vote of 21-16.

On Thursday in the Senate, the measure logged 10 yes votes and nine no votes, with Sen. Kyra Hoffner, D-Dover, not voting. But Senate sponsor Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, then changed his yes vote to no.

The alteration meant that the initiative stalled in the Senate but could be brought back to its floor for another vote by Sunday, the last day of this year’s legislative session.

Many senators seemed emotional while speaking about the measure Thursday.

“It shouldn’t be taken lightly. Life is precious, particularly to those of us who believe a higher power has given our life meaning. So, I hope the supporters of this bill recognize that my forthcoming no vote, and that of my Republican caucus colleagues, is not from a place of indifference,” said Sen. Eric Buckson, R-Camden.

“We have heard from those whose circumstances have brought them to a place of support. And I truly sympathize with those individuals and their difficult stories. I get it. I really do. However, there are deep concerns with HB 140 from a wide spectrum of individuals and groups, and I can’t ignore that,” he continued. “I really appreciate the safeguards that have been placed in this legislation that should, hopefully, keep this strictly to those who have received a terminal diagnosis and are of sound mind (and) capable of making this decision without coercion. With that said, it’s a slippery slope.”

In addition, many senators told stories of loved ones who have suffered in their final days.

“I’ve been with a few family members that have passed away, in particular my 65-year-old sister-in-law whose body was wracked with bone cancer. My own sister, 64 years old, had terminal cancer,” said Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford. “Even though they had a lot of pain late in life, there were remedies to relieve that pain. And they passed peacefully. Of course, being Christians I think really helped them in their calmness about facing death.

“But I can’t imagine someone in any family, particularly in my family, thinking that they are a burden on the other family members and taking that pill and putting it in their mouth. I just think that that is something that we should not support.”

Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, raised similar concerns about spending time with relatives in their final days, but he was also concerned with the manner in which the proposal would permit death of a terminally ill individual.

“My concern is, is that they do it at home. And they have no idea what path that pill is going to take. They have no idea how it’s going to affect them. They don’t know what it’s going to do. Let’s face it, we’re still practicing medicine. We don’t have it down pat yet. We don’t have something that says this is going to do this for everyone, no matter what. We couldn’t even get an injection with a death penalty to work or medication ... to work reliably.

He added, “I don’t think this is going to work reliably. And I think that’s going to cause anguish within the family. I just don’t think this is the way to go.”

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