The D.C. Council last year made a serious error when it passed the Death With Dignity Act, legalizing physician-assisted suicide in the District. Now it is Congress’s duty and constitutional obligation to ensure the act does not stand.
Those who argue that the D.C. Council, in its capacity as the local government, has spoken for the citizens of the District ignore a central and crucial fact: The awesome responsibility of acting as the state for the citizens of the District lies not in the hands of a local government, but with Congress. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution vests Congresswith exclusive legislative jurisdiction.
While the Home Rule Act of 1973 delegated to the District the ability to carry out some legislative functions and the authority to form a local government, the act reserved the role of state for Congress alone, and Congress has rightfully provided itself with the ability to review all legislation passed by the District.
During the review of the Death With Dignity Act, Congress can and should pass a joint resolution of disapproval. If it does and the resolution is signed by the president, the misguided Death With Dignity Act would be nullified.
From the earliest political philosophers to our country’s Founding Fathers to renowned literary giants, the sanctity and value of life has long been extolled.
The philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas reasoned that suicidewas “contrary to natural law and to charity” because “everything naturally loves itself, the result being that everything naturally keeps itself in being, and resists corruptions so far as it can. Wherefore suicide is contrary to the inclination of nature, and to charity whereby every man should love himself.”
In drafting the Declaration of Independence, our esteemed Founding Fathers set a moral standard for this country, eloquently stating, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
These great thinkers and others agree on the fundamental responsibility of government to protect the lives of its citizens. With this act, the District is doing just the opposite.
D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt testified against the bill and identified numerous concerns with it, including the potential for abuse and coercion, particularly for individuals with disabilities.
The American Medical Association is against physician-assisted suicideand asserts in its policy statement that such practice is “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer . . . and would pose serious societal risks.”
We must take heed of such warnings. We need only look across the Atlantic for a view down the slippery slope of physician-assisted suicide.
In a number of European countries where assisted suicide is legal, the option is no longer limited to only those with a terminal illness. People struggling with addiction, depression or autism have received the state seal of approval to end what might have otherwise been long and prosperous lives.
Rather than facilitate suicides, the government’s role should be to prevent them.
Certainly the federal government’s commitment to preventing suicide is clear. In fiscal year 2015, Congress allocated $55 million in the annual budget for suicide prevention efforts. The National Institutes of Health has spent more than $250 million since 2012 studying suicide prevention.
The District’s bill is incompatible with this priority to prevent the needless death and grief caused by suicides.
We should not now or ever take steps to help facilitate, encourage or tacitly accept measures that prematurely end lives.
In the interest of protecting D.C. residents, it is imperative that Congress act.
In the acclaimed poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” Dylan Thomas implores us to “rage, rage against the dying of the light” and to harness the natural, human instinct to fight for life.
We will rage for the citizens of the District and ensure the seat of our federal government remains a place where the most basic right to life is protected for all residents.
This piece originally appeared in the Washington Post