House of Delegates Considering SB 280, Medical Aid in Dying

House of Delegates Considering SB 280, Medical Aid in Dying

Death with dignity bill passed in Virginia Senate.

Virginia is a battleground state within itself. State legislators are fiercely divided concerning proposed legislation, SB 280. If passed, it would allow an eligible adult diagnosed with a terminal disease to request an attending health care provider to prescribe a fatal dose of a controlled substance to be self-administered for the purpose of ending the patient's life.

Senate Bill 280, one of the two Virginia bills concerning Death with Dignity, passed passed the Senate. Its companion, House Bill 858, which was originally "put on hold for the day," failed in committee.

Crossover Day, Feb. 13, this year in the Virginia General Assembly was the legislative day of the session, where bills pass out of their respective chambers to be considered by the other chamber, or not.

End of life choice, which could allow a terminally ill person to die on their terms, is a controversial issue in the United States and Virginia. 

U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-10), announced she would not run for reelection after being diagnosed with incurable progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). “If this bill becomes law in Virginia, it would return the control over to when, where and how our stories end to us, not to our diseases,” wrote Wexton in a letter read in the Virginia Senate by Sen. Jennifer Boysko. 

In ten states and the District of Columbia, some patients with terminal illnesses can request medication from their doctors to end their lives.

Fifteen states, including Virginia, are currently considering Death with Dignity bills that would allow physician-assisted deaths. 

In Colorado, an amendment would, among other things, remove the residency requirement and reduce the waiting period from 15 days to 48 hours in its End of Life Options Act (2016). In New Jersey, Assembly Bill No. 407 introduced by Assemblyman Robert Auth (R), would repeal the state’s Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act (2019). 

Between now and Saturday, March 9, when the 2024 Regular Session of the Virginia General Assembly is scheduled to finish or adjourn sine die, the Senate can only hear bills that passed in the House of Delegates, and the House can only hear bills that passed in the Senate. No new bills can be introduced. If the bill passes before the General Assembly wraps up on March 9, it is sent to the governor’s desk. The governor can veto it, sign it into law, or allow it to become law without his signature.

On Feb. 7, SB 280 passed on a party line vote (21-Y-19-N). SB 280 was introduced by Sen. Ghazala F. Hashmi (D-15). The tally sheet reports: YEAS--Aird, Bagby, Boysko, Carroll Foy, Deeds, Ebbin, Favola, Hashmi, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, McPike, Pekarsky, Perry, Roem, Rouse, Salim, Subramanyam, Surovell, VanValkenburg, Williams Graves--21; and NAYS--Craig, DeSteph, Diggs, Durant, French, Hackworth, Head, Jordan, McDougle, McGuire, Mulchi, Obenshain, Peake, Pillion, Reeves, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein..

Hashmi said in her release regarding the passage of SB 280 that it was “inspiring to see such legislation, intended to bring ease from physical pain to those in the final stages of life, pass through the full Senate chamber.” She added that having spoken with numerous Virginians and many constituents, the legislation is vital for their families.

Boysko, co-patron of SB 280, reading from the letter by U.S. Rep. Wexton, said that Wexton’s Progressive Supranuclear Palsy had worsened. ”It has become clear that no matter how many medications I take or how many hours of physical, occupational, and speech therapy I do, I cannot stop PSP’s inevitable progression.”

In a statement by the Virginia Catholic Conference on “Assisted Suicide Legislation,” dated Feb. 5, Bishop Michael Francis Burbidge, Catholic Diocese of Arlington, and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond wrote, “Human life is sacred and must never be abandoned or discarded. ... In Oregon, only 3.3% of the patients who died by assisted suicide since its legalization in 1998 were referred for psychiatric evaluation.” 

In an update on last week’s rapid-paced Virginia General Assembly processes pending Crossover Day on Tuesday, Feb. 13, HB 858 Health Care — decision-making, end-of-life penalties introduced by Del. Patrick Hope (D-1) would have granted “immunity from civil or criminal liability and professional disciplinary action to any person who complies with the provisions of the bill and allows health care providers to refuse to participate in the provision of a self-administered controlled substance to a patient for the purpose of ending the patient's life,” according to Virginia’s Legislative Information System.

Following the Senate passage of SB 280, the Virginia Society for Human Life released a statement saying that Virginia Democrats voted to undermine state protective assisted suicide law. “Current law in Virginia protects vulnerable patients and doctors from being pressured into assisted suicide situations,” states the release.