UPDATE: Proposed Bill Allowing Assisted Suicide Faces Opposition - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

UPDATE: Proposed Bill Allowing Assisted Suicide Faces Opposition

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DOVER, Del. (AP) - Proposed legislation allowing physician-assisted suicide in Delaware could face an uphill battle in the General Assembly.

Rep. Paul Baumbach, a Newark Democrat, said he doesn't know when he'll introduce the so-called "death with dignity" bill, which is modeled on legislation from Oregon. Oregon is one of only five states that allow assisted suicide and was the first to allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients.

"We're making sure we're getting enough input so that by the time we introduce it, it has its best chance to go forward," Baumbach said this week.

But the Medical Society of Delaware, keeping with policies of the American Medical Association, already has come out against the measure.

"The Medical Society of Delaware strongly opposes any bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia, as these practices are fundamentally inconsistent with the physician's role as healer," the society said in a prepared statement.

"When the treatment goals for a patient in the end stages of a terminal illness shift from curative efforts to comfort care, the level of physician involvement in the patient's care should in no way decrease," the statement added.

Although the draft legislation is still being worked on and has not been widely circulated, it purportedly would allow assisted suicide in cases in which a person has been told by a doctor that she or he has only a short time to live, perhaps six months or less. The patient, not a family member, would be the only person authorized to make the decision, although a family member could be one of two required witnesses, the other being a doctor.

Baumbach does not seem worried by the medical society's opposition.

"There's other states that have gone up against that," he said. "While you can have medical boards that will be against some legislation, you also have medical board members and just plain doctors who are in favor, and that's all we need."

Meanwhile, the chairwoman of the state Council for Persons with Disabilities also has expressed concerns.

"Make yourself really knowledgeable about what's going on," Daniese McMullin-Powell urged other council members at a meeting last month.

McMullin-Powell, who has met with Baumbach to discuss the legislation, said people should not confuse assisted suicide with withholding treatment.

"It's an active killing of a person with someone's help," she said. "It's not pulling the oxygen tubes out, disconnecting the heart and lung machine."

On Thursday, Maryland lawmakers put the brakes on similar legislation, saying they need more time to study the measure.

"It's a very touchy subject," Pat Maichle, senior administrator with the Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council, said at last month's meeting of the Council for Persons with Disabilities. "There's a lot of concern from the disability community nationwide and here in Delaware."

One concern is that people might contemplate suicide because they feel like they are a burden to those around them or that they might be coerced, perhaps by a family member who stands to benefit from their death.

"That sense of guilt and that sense of burden, that's a slow death as well," said council member John McNeal, expressing concern that people might prematurely opt for suicide without being made aware of resources and opportunities available to them.

McNeal, 47, was left paralyzed by a motorcycle accident in 1990. Having found "a different way to walk," he says he now lives an "extraordinarily ordinary life," which includes celebrating the birth of his son last month.

"The only informed decision is one that you gain through experience and living," McNeal said.

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