End-of-life option bill moves out of committee

Awaits action by the full House
May 21, 2023

A bill seeking to allow an end-of-life care option for terminally ill but mentally capable adults moved out of a House committee May 16.

“This is my eighth year bringing this forward, and I do this for Heather and Ron,” said bill sponsor Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark. “This bill enables you to speak for those who are dying. This bill enables you to get government out of deathbeds of terminally ill Delawareans.”

House Bill 140, also known as the Ron Silverio/Heather Block End-of-Life Options Law, is named in memory of Ron Silverio and Heather Block, who had advocated for the law but died without this option available to them. Block was a Lewes resident who died in 2018 from terminal breast cancer. 

HB 140 would allow a mentally sound adult working with a physician or registered nurse to request and self-administer medication to end the adult’s life. 

Dr. Neil Kaye, co-chair of the ethics committee for the Psychiatric Society of Delaware, opposed the bill.

“Physicians are terrible at predicting deaths. At six months out, fewer than a third of our predictions are correct,” he said. “The myth that physicians can provide a speedy and pain-free death needs to be confronted with reality. Nothing in our training teaches us how to do this.”

He said the cocktail of life-ending drugs keeps changing, and it can take hours for some people to die.

Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, questioned how doctors will be educated and trained to end someone’s life.

“We’re making a lot of assumptions of how something will work without having the practice,” she said. 

Dr. Diana Barnard, a Vermont physician who has assisted patients in dying, said 85% of patients die within two hours, and they are usually in a sleeping state when they pass.

“There are some medical conditions that place people at risk of taking longer to die, but it is extremely rare for that time to be several hours, ” she said.

Both Rep. Jeff Hilovsky, R-Millsboro, and Rep. Stell Parker Selby, D-Milton, said they have received a large number of emails against the bill from Sussex County residents.

“I’m torn with this bill,” Parker Selby said. “I still feel there are a lot of problems with this bill. I have to go with what the people are telling me. I know choice is important … but it's just something that I can’t in my soul say I’m going to solely accept.”

Baumbach’s Death with Dignity Bill never made it out of committee in 2015; his End of Life Options Act in 2017 never made it to the House floor. He introduced House Bill 140 at the end of the legislative session in 2021, but the bill had no movement in 2022. The current bill now awaits action by the full House.


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