Bill allowing doctor-assisted suicide in Delaware fails in Senate

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A bill allowing doctor-assisted suicide in Delaware failed to win approval in the state Senate on Thursday after narrowly clearing the House earlier this year, but it could come back next week.

The legislation failed in the Democrat-led Senate in a 9-9 tie after three members of the Democratic caucus spoke against the measure. No Republican lawmakers voted for it.

Two Republicans were absent and Smyrna-area Democrat Sen. Kyra Hoffner tearfully declined to vote on the measure she co-sponsored. In a strategic move that could allow the bill to come back for a vote next week before the legislative session ends, Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, of Newark, switched his vote from “yes” to “no.” Under Senate rules, a motion for reconsideration can be made by a member who voted on the prevailing side, which in this case includes the “no votes” and members not voting.

“I just can’t get there,” Stanton Democrat Sen. Jack Walsh explained as he spoke about his older sister’s 10-year fight against breast cancer. He also recounted the plea made by the late college basketball coach Jim Valvano in a 1993 speech marking the start of the V Foundation for Cancer Research as he himself was dying from cancer: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

“My sister lived by that motto. ... And that’s what I live by. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up," Walsh said.

The bill is the latest iteration of legislation that has been repeatedly introduced by Newark Democrat Rep. Paul Baumbach since 2015, and the only version to make it to a floor vote. After lengthy debate in April, House lawmakers voted 21-16 for the measure, which needed at least 21 affirmative votes for passage.

Currently, only 10 states, along with the District of Columbia, have laws legalizing doctor-assisted suicide.

Opponents have expressed ethical concerns about the Delaware legislation and questioned the need for it, given advances in hospice and palliative care in recent years.

Baumbach has said the measure is not intended to replace palliative or hospice care, but to complement them. Townsend noted during Thursday’s debate that the vast majority of doctor-assisted suicides in other states involve people who are under hospice care.

The legislation allows an adult resident of Delaware who is diagnosed with a terminal illness and expected to die within six months to request lethal prescription drugs from a doctor or advanced practice registered nurse who has primary responsibility for the terminal illness. A consulting physician or nurse would have to confirm the diagnosis and prognosis of the patient, who must have “decision-making capacity.”

The patient would have to be evaluated by a psychiatrist or a psychologist if any of the medical professionals was concerned that he or she lacks decision-making capacity. A person also would not qualify for doctor-assisted suicide solely because of age or disability.

The patient would have to make two oral requests for a lethal prescription, followed by a written request, and would have to wait at least 15 days after the initial request before receiving the drugs. The attending doctor or nurse would have to wait at least 48 hours after the written request, which must be signed by two witnesses, before prescribing the drugs.

Supporters say those conditions serve as “guardrails” to ensure that a terminally ill person does not act rashly and is not pressured for family, financial or other reasons to end his or her life.

Wilmington-area Democrat Sen. Spiros Mantzavinos, one of the Democrats who opposed the measure was not convinced, however.

“Should this become law, guardrails can be uninstalled, and modified,” he said.

Randall Chase, The Associated Press