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Future of assisted suicide in D.C. in Senate's hands
WASHINGTON (BP) -- The continuation of legalized, physician-assisted suicide in the country's capital awaits the determination of the U.S. Senate.
The House of Representatives nullified the District of Columbia's Death With Dignity Act as part of an immense spending bill it approved Sept. 14. Representatives included a block on the 2016 D.C. measure as an amendment to legislation they passed 211-198.
Opponents and supporters of assisted suicide are waiting to see if the Senate will include the amendment revoking the D.C. law when it acts on the same spending proposal. The final version of the legislation will still need the signature of President Trump.
The D.C. law went into effect Feb. 18 when Congress failed to overturn the measure by the deadline it is given under its authority to review the district's actions. The law was not implemented until June.
Southern Baptists outside and inside D.C. hope its legalization will be short-lived.
"The so-called 'Death with Dignity Act' is a contradiction in terms," said ethicist Russell Moore, who expressed gratitude for the House vote. "It commodifies death into a marketable good at the expense of human dignity.
"My prayer is that the Senate would follow the House's lead and send the signal that our nation's capital would defend and honor human life rather than market death," said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in written comments for Baptist Press.
Efficiency should not be the goal in death, a Southern Baptist pastor in D.C. told BP.
"There is a fascination with efficiency in the American moment," said Nathan Knight, pastor of Restoration Church. "And true life and love are not efficient. They demand toil, heartache and inconvenience. Therefore, we do not dignify the life of others by trying to make their death more efficient for ourselves, their insurers or themselves. Nor do we love those who are sick by making it possible for their impending deaths to be more efficient. Less painful, yes, but efficient, no.
"Exploiting life for the sake of an efficient death lies about dignity," he said in written remarks. "Dignity is seen in the life of Christ, who was given a death warrant, even requested to be released and yet wisely saw it through in order that by his unassisted death life would come.
"May we as Christians understand the same. May we mournfully embrace the inefficiency of death for the purpose of honoring the dignity of life," Knight said.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., also a Southern Baptist, introduced in January what turned out to be an unsuccessful bill seeking to block the D.C. law from taking effect. At the time, he cited a 1997 federal law that bars the use of federal funds for reasons related to assisted suicide -- a measure D.C. apparently violated.
"Congress has clearly spoken on this issue -- no federal dollars can be used for assisted suicide," Lankford told BP in a written statement Wednesday (Sept. 20). "Despite this unequivocal prohibition, the District of Columbia passed the Death With Dignity Act to legalize assisted suicide in our nation's capital.
"As the Constitution provides Congress with oversight of the District, we have an obligation not only to ensure compliance with federal law, but to protect the most vulnerable among us from the dangers of assisted suicide," Lankford said.
The Southern Baptist Convention has expressed opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia in its annual resolutions dating back 25 years. In the most recent action, messengers to the 2015 SBC meeting adopted a resolution affirming "the dignity and sanctity of human life at all stages of development, from conception to natural death." The resolution called on churches and Christians "to care for the elderly among us, to show them honor and dignity, and to prayerfully support and counsel those who are providing end-of-life care for the aged, the terminally ill, and the chronically infirmed."
Assisted suicide is not just potentially abusive, but it already is being used in place of health care, foes say. Some Americans with terminal illnesses have reported that Medicaid and/or their insurance companies have informed them they will pay for a lethal prescription but not drugs to treat their afflictions.
The D.C. assisted-suicide law -- passed by the City Council in November and signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser in December -- authorizes doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to people who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses and supposedly have less than six months to live.
Assisted-suicide advocates criticized the House action against the D.C. law.
"Congress should stop using the District of Columbia as its personal science experiment," said Anthony Hinojosa, senior political and federal associate for Compassion & Choices, in a written statement. "We are counting on senators from the six states that also have authorized this time-tested medical practice to insist that this amendment be excluded from any final spending bill or continuing resolution to fund the government."
The states in which assisted suicide is now legal are California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Efforts were underway earlier this year in the legislatures of about half of the remaining states to legalize the lethal practice, according to the Death With Dignity National Center.
Assisted suicide involves a doctor providing a prescription for a drug that a patient administers in taking his or her own life. In euthanasia, a medical provider acts directly to take a patient's life, typically by lethal injection.