THE REPUBLICAN chairman of the committee with oversight of the District said he is going to try to block the city from implementing a law that gives mentally capable adults with less than six months to live the option of ending their lives in a way that spares them suffering. “Assisted suicide is not something we take lightly,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said of his plans to stop the bill from taking effect.
Well, we have news for Mr. Chaffetz. Neither did the D.C. Council. Nor, for that matter, did the six states that currently allow medical aid in dying. In fact, it was the studied experience of these states — the sparing use, the benefits to those with terminal illness and their families, the lack of any evidence of abuse or coercion — that helped persuade the D.C. Council after a long, thoughtful debate to approve a death-with-dignity measure that enjoyed broad public support and was signed into law by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D).
All that, though, is seemingly immaterial to Mr. Chaffetz, who, like many of his colleagues on the Hill, views the District not as a locally governed community with residents who should have all the rights of other Americans but as an opportunity to score easy political points. The Constitution gives Congress pretty much absolute authority over the District, but just because Congress can do something does not mean it should. One would think that those who belong to a party that espouses the benefits of local control over federal interference would adhere to that principle.
Instead, Mr. Chaffetz announced plans for a disapproval resolution of the District’s law during the 30-day congressional review period, and on Thursday a companion joint resolution was filed in the House and Senate by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio). Only three disapproval resolutions, which require House, Senate and presidential approval, have been enacted into law since the Home Rule Act of 1973 and none since 1991. But even if Mr. Chaffetz does not succeed — and it will be interesting to see if the Senate will devote precious floor time to this D.C. issue with so much other pressing business on its plate — there are, unfortunately, other ways in which Congress is able to meddle, notably by the use of riders on appropriations bills.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) has it right. If members of Congress have such a fundamental disagreement with physician-aided death, they should be equally worried about its effect in Oregon, Washington state, California, Colorado, Montana and Vermont. Have the intellectual honesty to propose and defend legislation that would ban the practice nationwide, and stop picking on the District.