Death with Dignity Fails in Virginia Legislature

( – Lawmakers in Virginia have once again delayed legislation that would permit medically assisted suicides for terminally ill adults diagnosed with a short period left to live.

On Monday, March 4, Virginia lawmakers pushed off the medically assisted suicide legislation for the second year in a row. The proposed bill would allow adults facing a terminal diagnosis to pursue the option of ending their own lives by means of a prescribed controlled substance.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ghazala Hashmi and was approved in the Senate in February, carried over by party lines after a ringing endorsement of the legislation by former state senator and current US Rep. Jennifer Wexton. The Democratic lawmaker, who once served as a Virginia state senator, announced last year in September that she would retire after serving the remainder of her term in the US House of Representatives following an updated diagnosis for a rare neurological disease called Progressive Supra-nuclear Palsy, type-p.

Wexton and others who support the bill argue that it would be compassionate to allow people with terminal illnesses to control how and when their life should end. Eligibility would be limited to individuals who are at least 18 and are mentally competent, and they must receive a diagnosis of a maximum of six months to live. Similar legislation has already passed in other states.

Conservative lawmakers alongside conservative and religious activist groups have openly opposed the measure, such as Catholic Bishop Michael Burbidge, who said the bill would only facilitate “tragedies” while making “the most vulnerable even more vulnerable.” In a Feb. 5 statement, he wrote that the legislation would particularly harm the disabled, mentally ill, elderly, and impoverished people who can’t afford healthcare. A few medical providers opposed the bill as well, believing that helping patients kill themselves goes against the professional standards of healthcare.

The Virginia House decision will carry over the legislation to next year’s session, stopping it from moving forward for the rest of 2024. Democrats supporting it are holding out hope that it will pass in the future.

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