Congress to Miss Deadline to Overturn D.C.’s Assisted-Suicide Law


*This article was updated Feb. 16.*

A congressional committee voted Feb. 13 to block the District of Columbia’s Assisted Suicide Act, approved by District voters in the November 2016 election. The committee’s vote to overturn the law only showed to reveal the continual, simmering battle between congressional Republicans and progressive Democrats.

The committee’s resolution requires final approval by votes in the House and Senate by Friday, Feb. 17, to kill the D.C. law that goes into effect Saturday.

House Republicans acknowledged that they will simply run out of time to get the full vote, and District leaders after Monday’s protests were aware that Congress would not act quickly enough. Nevertheless, as the law rolls out it will require congressional funding — another hurdle for the District law.

Hundreds of protestors, chanting “Hands Off D.C.,” turned out Feb. 13, next to the Rayburn House Office Building and later at the Atlas Performing Arts Center to protest the action. But the Committee on Oversight and Government, which has jurisdiction over the District’s laws and policies, voted 22 to 14 to end the legality of assisted suicides here. The vote ran pretty much as expected, with 21 Republicans with one Democrat – Jim Cooper of Tennessee – voting yes and 13 Democrats and one Republican – Darrell Issa of California – voting no.

Republican Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah has called for a closer scrutiny of D.C. laws and policies. The Mormon representative targeted the Assisted Suicide Act first out of what he called “a deep personal moral conviction.” The law would allow doctors to prescribe fatal doses of medication to terminally ill patients of sound mind who requested it.

Protestors fear that Republicans will use their constitutional power over District laws to overturn more policies in the deeply liberal Democratic city. In the 40 years of District home rule, congressional power of oversight has only been used a few times — most significantly from 1995 to 2001, when a financial control board oversaw decisions by the mayor and the District Council.

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