Compassionate Aid in Dying Bill proposed


By Miya Cao, Staff Reporter

In 1997, the first official Death with Dignity Act took effect in Oregon. Death with Dignity is a national nonprofit advocating for end-of-life policy reform. Currently, 10 states and Washington D.C. have an active statute allowing citizens to access physician assisted suicide, and Pennsylvania has plans to join them as one of 11 states with a pending bill.

The Compassionate Aid in Dying Act would allow terminally ill, mentally capable adults to hasten their dying by self-administering lethal medicine. Currently, mercy killing and euthanasia are illegal in the U.S., but Pennsylvania’s Advance Directive for Health Care Act allows patients to be taken off of life-sustaining treatment if they request.

The Death with Dignity website states, “We know some peo- ple die in horrible ways as their terminal illness overtakes them. In our current healthcare landscape, that is undeniable. And, it’s unacceptable. We believe individuals with terminal illness have a right to die with the same autonomy and agency in which they lived their lives. Our work arises out of deep respect and empathy for this most intimate and personal freedom.”

Medical aid in dying bills are not, however, without precedence. From 2007-2015, Pennsylvania legislators proposed seven related bills that did not advance into law. In 2017 and 2021, Pennsylvania Senators and the General Assembly sponsored official Death with Dignity Acts that also did not pass.

Pennsylvania representative, Tarik Khan, Christopher Rabb, Jose Giral, Mark Rozzi, Carol Hill-Evans and Conestoga alumna Melissa Shusterman introduced the Compassionate Aid in Dying Act on March 1.

“It’s a very common sense bill. It’s already passed in multiple states,” Shusterman said. “I could only imagine the horror it would be to know you’re in excruciating pain and (that) there is no cure and that you have less than six months to live. That’s what this bill covers.”

Some critics of the bill are fearful that it could lead to relaxation of the eligibility requirements, which occurred in Canada. On March 17, 2024, Canada’s Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) program will be expanded to allow individuals with mental illnesses without a foreseeable natural death to request MAID. Shusterman believes the legislative system will protect the bill from expanding.

“I personally don’t think there’s a slippery slope. We’re not Canada, we’re the U.S.,” Shusterman said. “To expand the bill, it would have to go through the entire process again.”

Miya Cao can be reached at [email protected].