For Immediate Release
October 5, 2016
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Washington, D.C. – Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) released the following statement following his vote in the Committee on Health and Human Services to advance Bill 21-38, the Death with Dignity Act of 2016:

“Bill 21-38, the “Death with Dignity Act of 2016”, is one of the more difficult pieces of legislation I have had to contend with in my time on the Council. It deals with very complex and emotional issues, and the stakes are life and death.  At the very heart of the issue is balancing the personal rights of adults with the government interest in protecting vulnerable individuals.  Ultimately, my guiding principles to respect an individual’s rights to make their own decisions and to rely on the best available data when making decisions led me to support this legislation today.

“It was not a decision I came to lightly. I met extensively with many different people and organizations with varied opinions on it over the past two months:  The Arc, D.C. Center for Independent Living, National Council on Independent Living, and other disability rights advocates; Compassion and Choices, the Secular Coalition for America and other advocates for the bill; doctors, nurses, and medical ethicists; D.C. residents struggling with terminal disease and wishing to have physician assistance in death; and many more. I have also heard from countless constituents on both sides of the issue.  These advocates are very passionate, and I appreciate their consistent engagement to provide the Council with multiple perspectives that helped us examine this issue from every angle.

“I would prefer the government not be involved at all with this issue.  A matter this personal should be considered thoughtfully between an individual, their family and friends, and their doctor. 

“However, part of why this issue is so contentious is because of fears about coercion, and the duty of the government to protect the vulnerable. I am apprehensive about this bill because I know the reality that many members of our community do not have equitable access to healthcare, and are viewed as inherently less valuable by our society. I take very seriously the concerns of people with disabilities who worry that this legislation will be used to coerce individuals into ending their lives prematurely.

“The devil is in the details, and we must fully consider them and take great care in enacting and implementing this bill.  I would like to know how this bill would envision an investigation into an instance of possible coercion. I would like to know how this bill ensures that no one in the District of Columbia will be told by their insurance that an experimental treatment is too expensive, but that Death with Dignity is affordable and a better option. And I would like to know what we will do as a Council if we pass this legislation to send a clear message that no matter the challenges an individual might face in life, no matter the illness or disabilities they may face, that this is the only life we get and we should live it to the fullest, even in circumstances that are challenging, unpleasant, and unfamiliar.

“To some it may seem to go against a lot of the work I have done trying to prevent suicide since the residents of the District of Columbia elected me to serve on the Council.  Just last fall, we passed a bill I wrote that seeks to address suicide and mental health among young people. 

“I remain dedicated to continue that work.

“Yet, as a matter of basic principle, I believe that adults should be able to make choices about their own lives and bodies. It is hard for me to imagine telling a person in the final months of their life that they must continue to fight if they desire to end things on their own terms.

“Equally important to me is to base legislative decisions on data. The data from other states have not shown that similar laws have targeted vulnerable communities.  To the contrary, in Oregon, where this has been law for 20 years, those taking the covered medication are more likely to be economically and educationally privileged.  There have also been no substantiated cases of coercion.

“So today, I voted in favor of advancing this bill. However, my work does not end here.  I will continue to discuss this legislation and potential amendments with Councilmember Alexander, Councilmember Cheh, and our other colleagues. I also want to reiterate my commitment to fight for the rights of people with disabilities and the elderly, and that my work on issues of mental health and suicide prevention will continue.

“In the event that the Council passes this bill, I will keep a close eye on its implementation and if there are problems I will be the first to propose changes.

“I would like to thank all of the advocates and community members who have met with me, reached out to me, and engaged in the process, because your participation in this debate is critical and will continue to be invaluable as this legislation moves forward.”