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November 01, 2016

Death with Dignity Act passes first reading at DC Council

(That's me, Rick Rosendall, in the yellow shirt at center left in above pic.)

On Tuesday afternoon (Nov. 1) the Death with Dignity Act passed first reading at the DC Council by a vote of 11-2. (Dissenting were CMs Alexander and Nadeau.) Most advocates on both sides (I have testified and lobbied in favor on behalf of GLAA) have been civil toward one another during the process leading up to today's vote. Health Committee Chair Yvette Alexander, for example, held a committee markup on the bill despite her personal opposition.

But one opponent was quite exercised as today's meeting was about to begin, threatening to defeat every Councilmember who supported the bill. (Good luck with that, lady, since most Washingtonians disagree with you.) She even gave a dressing down to bill supporter Romaine Thomas, a beloved local figure who is widow and mother of past council members and a longtime public servant in her own right. The angry woman refused even to shake Romaine's hand; I, as usual, had embraced Mrs. Thomas, asked after her family (her grandson is in college), and said I was glad we were on the same side.

Bill author Mary Cheh explicated well the bill's purpose, details, and safeguards. Several friendly amendments were accepted for clarification in response to concerns raised by a Mayor Bowser and DOH Director Nesbitt. But the standout moment during discussion on the dais came when Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie grew emotional as he described the death of his father. He had us in tears as he brought home the importance of this bill to restoring a measure of control and dignity to terminally ill patients at the end of life.

Thanks to all who worked to advance this bill, from members to staffers to advocates, including many people who told their personal stories. Special thanks to Compassion and Choices for their leadership. Second reading is expected on November 15.

GLAA's take on the bill can be found in our 2016 policy brief, "Building on Victory."

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