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Bill before General Assembly would assist terminally ill in ending their own lives

The "Virginia Medical Aid in Dying Act" is called a "compassionate choice" by advocates.

RICHMOND, Va. — Advocates say the "Virginia Medical Aid in Dying Act" is all about compassion and empowering people to chart their own end-of-life journeys.

It is back before the General Assembly again this year.

S-B 390  would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the legal right to obtain a doctor's prescription for medication they may decide to administer to themselves to peacefully end unbearable suffering.

A person wishing to die because of old age or disability would not be eligible.

A similar bill has been the law in Oregon for almost 25 years.

"It's the idea that patients have control over their final decisions, that patients in concert with their families and loved ones, as well as their medical team, are in a position to make the appropriate decision for themselves," said Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield), the measure's patron, during a Zoom call Tuesday with the media.

Also weighing in was Melissa Stacey with the Compassion and Choices Action Network, the Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit organization working to improve patient autonomy and individual choice at the end of life.

Stacey said: "This is a compassionate choice for people who want the option of aid in dying. Our focus with this legislation is to ensure that people have access to the full range of end-of-life options."

Also speaking in the virtual news conference was a Falls Church woman with terminal pancreatic cancer.

Barbara Green said if the Virginia General Assembly fails to pass the bill, she would have to move to Washington, D.C. to use its medical aid-in-dying law.

“In July 2022, I was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer,” she said. “I suddenly realized that my own life-threatening diagnosis meant I would have to move to D.C. in the fairly near future in order to avail myself of their Death with Dignity law.  I am in the process of doing that now. I should not have to leave Virginia to achieve bodily autonomy and do not see how anyone who has watched a loved one suffer through a lingering death could vote against this legislation. I'm hoping that lawmakers think about this as they vote.”

The Senate Subcommittee on Health Professions voted last Friday 5 to 4 to pass the bill by indefinitely.

Despite that, the full Senate Education & Health committee will hold a hearing on the proposed measure this Thursday. 

Deathwithdignity.org reports that similar legislation dates back to 2019 in the Virginia General Assembly, and it has failed to advance every year.

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