Critics raised the alarm as the Virginia Senate passed a bill Friday that would legalize assisted suicide, otherwise known as “medical aid in dying.”
Based on the bill’s language, it would permit doctors to give their terminally ill patients a “self-administered controlled substance” to end their lives. The bill passed the Senate 21-19.
While supporters say the legislation offers a compassionate alternative to “lingering death” for those with terminal diagnoses, critics warn that such laws are ripe for abuse, as governments, health insurance companies, and even family members may pressure vulnerable people to end their lives prematurely to save money on medical expenses.
“Virginia’s bill SB280 offers no real protection for vulnerable patients,” the National Association of Pro-Life Nurses told The Daily Signal in an emailed statement. “Instead, it embraces a profit-driven industry that seeks to exploit patient suffering. This extreme, out-of-touch legislation erodes the trust of the heath care profession.”
The association said its members “strongly oppose any legislation that undermines the patient-provider relationship.”
Virginia Catholic Bishops Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Barry Knestout of Richmond said in an official statement they were “alarmed and deeply saddened” by the bill’s introduction.
The faith leaders condemned the bill, saying that assisted suicide “facilitates tragedies and makes the most vulnerable even more vulnerable. Legalizing it would place the lives of people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses, the elderly, and those unable to afford health care—among others—at heightened risk of deadly harm.”
The legislation requires patients to request their assisted suicide orally twice and once in writing with the opportunity to rescind their request at any time. It also “grants immunity from civil and/or criminal liability” to those who comply with the bill, such as medical professionals and patients’ family members.
“Society is on the wrong track when the public policy goal is to eliminate those who might suffer rather than address their needs,” Kristi Hamrick, spokeswoman for the national pro-life organization Students for Life Action, told The Daily Signal in an emailed statement.
“Students for Life Action supports protections for life from conception to natural death,” Hamrick said. “It’s clear that when people become ill or face prejudice for perceptions of their abilities, precious lives can be lost.”
Proponents of the bill hailed the legislation’s advancement.
Barbara Green, a Virginia resident with metastatic pancreatic cancer, said in a statement with nonprofit Compassion & Choices that she was “grateful” to the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, for her work on this “urgently needed legislation for terminally ill Virginians.”
“I plead with House members to approve this bill,” Green added. “I should not have to leave Virginia to go to Washington, D.C., to achieve bodily autonomy. I do not see how anyone who has watched a loved one suffer through a lingering death could vote against this compassionate legislation.”
The district legalized assisted suicide in 2017.
“Virginia voters will be grateful to lawmakers for showing compassion and love by passing this legislation and providing their dying loved ones with the option to avoid needless suffering,” Melissa Stacy, northeast advocacy manager for Compassion & Choices Action Network, said in a press release.
Stacy added that she trusts members of the Virginia House of Delegates to “hear the voices of Barbara Green and many other Virginians who desperately want and need the option of medical aid in dying.”
The bill’s sponsors did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment by publication time.
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