Virginia Senate narrowly passes bill to legalize assisted death in the Commonwealth

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Senate narrowly passed a bill Friday that would legalize medically assisted death in Virginia.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ghazala F. Hashmi (D-Chesterfield County), was approved 21-19 along party lines.

The House of Delegates is expected to take a vote on HB858, medically assisted death next week.

Barbara Green, a resident of Northern Virginia has been advocating for this bill for several years and was herself diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer 19 months ago.

She told WAVY on Friday that while she’s feeling well today, she knows the end is coming.

“I would like to know that when things get too bad, my doctor can hand me a medication that will maybe hasten my death by a few days,” Green said.

SB 280 would allow patients with a terminal diagnosis and less that six months to live the option to request life-ending medication.

Catholic Bishops Barry Knestout of the Richmond Diocese and Michael Burbidge of Arlington released a joint statement this week, saying: “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 healthcare — among others — at heightened risk of deadly harm”

Melissa Stacy, the Northeast advocacy manager for Compassion and Choices, said this is about choice.

“No one else can do this for them,” Stacy said. “This has to be the patient’s choice. They have to be driving the ship, they have to make the recommendation.”

Stacy said there are safeguards in place, and, among the 10 states and Washington DC where it is legal, nearly 37% of people who request the medication don’t end up taking it.

The bishops, however, warn that insurance companies in those states have denied coverage for cancer, but have offered to pay for the cheaper suicide drug.

Green understands why some oppose the bill. She just doesn’t agree.

“Nobody should have to suffocate or choke to death,” Green said. “There’s got to be a better way.”

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