A Virginia Senate subcommittee recommended against a bill that would have allowed terminally ill people to request a medically-assisted death after State Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke City) joined with Republicans in opposition; the bill will still go before the full Senate Education and Health Committee for consideration.

“I know this is a very sensitive issue, but this is an issue about which I’ve heard from so many individuals and families who have requested an option to have control over their final decisions as they reach they end of their life,” SB 930 sponsor State Senator Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) said in the Health Professions subcommittee on Friday morning.

Advocates of the bill shared stories about traumatic and painful deaths they or loved ones faced; the legislation would provide them the option to die in their sleep with medication from their healthcare provider.

“It is an effort to provide compassionate choice for those who are at the end stages,” Hashmi told The Star.

Hashmi emphasized protections and limitations included in the bill: “The most critical issue is that the individuals must be mentally capable of making an informed decisions and must have a prognosis of six months or fewer to live.”

The bill has additional protections, including that two Virginia-licensed health care providers must confirm that the patient has a prognosis of six months or less, and that the patient has full mental capability to make the decision. Patients must be at least 18 years old. The legislation also includes a waiting period: after the patient requests aid in dying from their healthcare provider, they must wait 15 days and ask again, unless their prognosis is less than 15 days. Hashmi said disability and depression are not terminal illnesses and don’t qualify in the legislation.

“Health care providers have civil and criminal immunity if they do choose to participate in the law, as long as they comply with all aspects of the law. And anyone attempting to coerce a patient will face criminal prosecution,” Hashmi said.

When the bill and the subcommittee’s recommendation goes before the full Senate committee for a vote, it faces better chances of passing out of committee, since Democrats hold a larger majority in the full committee. In 2022, Hashmi introduced similar legislation that was killed in the full committee when Edwards and all Republicans voted against it and State Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) abstained. But even if the bill passes out of committee and out of the Senate, it faces tough odds in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.

Petersen hasn’t had a chance to look at the 2023 version of the legislation.

“I need to read that bill because I’m getting a lot of feedback on it,” he said.

When The Star asked if he might vote differently this year, he said, “I talked with some advocates, which got me past some hesitations I had, but I have not yet decided which way I’m going.”

Edwards told The Star, “Depression may not be a particularly life-threatening disease, but I know that there are a lot of people who when they get depressed with another life-threatening disease, the depression takes over and then destroys their life,” he said.

“I sympathize with people who would like to be in the situation to control their own death, but at the same time I am concerned about the unforeseen and unintended consequences of it,” he added.

He said, “I’ve seen situations where people have died by suicide because they’re depressed. I’ve seen it a lot, and I think it’s something I’m concerned about, and so I kind of lean toward, let’s hold off on that.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “John Edwards” by John Edwards. Background Photo “Doctors and Patient” by RODNAE Productions.