Delaware Senate Deadlocks on Doctor-Assisted Suicide Bill, Possible Reconsideration Next Week

Delaware Senate Deadlocks on Doctor-Assisted Suicide Bill, Possible Reconsideration Next Week - Photo Source:

A bill that would allow doctor-assisted suicide in Delaware failed to pass the state Senate on Thursday after narrowly advancing through the House earlier this year. The legislation, which has been a contentious issue in the state, resulted in a 9-9 tie in the Democrat-led Senate. Three Democratic senators voiced their opposition to the measure, while no Republicans supported it.

Two Republican senators were absent during the vote, and Smyrna-area Democrat Sen. Kyra Hoffner, who co-sponsored the bill, emotionally abstained from voting. In a strategic move, Majority Leader Bryan Townsend of Newark changed his vote from “yes” to “no.” This maneuver allows the bill to be reconsidered next week, as Senate rules permit a motion for reconsideration by a member who voted with the prevailing side—in this case, those who voted “no” or abstained.

Sen. Jack Walsh, a Democrat from Stanton, spoke against the bill, drawing on personal experience. He recounted his sister’s decade-long battle with breast cancer and echoed the inspirational words of the late basketball coach Jim Valvano: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” Walsh's heartfelt appeal reflected the deep personal and ethical considerations influencing the debate.

This bill represents the latest effort by Newark Democrat Rep. Paul Baumbach, who has introduced similar legislation since 2015. This iteration is the first to reach a floor vote. In April, the House passed the measure with a 21-16 vote, meeting the minimum required for passage.

The proposed law would allow adult residents of Delaware diagnosed with a terminal illness and given less than six months to live to request lethal prescription drugs. The request process involves multiple safeguards: confirmation of the diagnosis by a second physician or nurse, evaluation by a psychiatrist or psychologist if there are concerns about decision-making capacity and a series of oral and written requests from the patient. Additionally, there is a mandatory waiting period between the requests and the prescription of the drugs.

Opponents of the bill have raised ethical issues and questioned the necessity of such legislation, citing advancements in hospice and palliative care. Sen. Spiros Mantzavinos, a Democrat from the Wilmington area, expressed skepticism about the bill's safeguards, warning that they could be weakened over time.

Baumbach and other supporters argue that the bill is designed to complement, not replace, palliative and hospice care. During the debate, Townsend noted that most doctor-assisted suicides in other states involve patients already receiving hospice care.

The Senate’s deadlock means the bill could be reconsidered before the legislative session ends next week. The outcome remains uncertain, with the potential for further debate and changes in votes as lawmakers weigh the ethical, medical, and personal implications of the legislation.

Currently, ten states and the District of Columbia have laws permitting doctor-assisted suicide.

Amanda Tjan
Amanda Tjan
Amanda is a freelance journalist interested in current events regarding policy and healthcare. She earned her bachelor's degree in social welfare from the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently attending medical school at Western University of Health Sciences and aspires to improve the lives of others through science and human connection.
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