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Congressmen Have a Right to Kill Themselves?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

"America wasn't founded on one homogeneous moral view. We have competing moral views."

Democrat Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia spoke these words Monday to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as he defended what he sees as the right to kill yourself -- and do so in collaboration with a licensed physician working with the imprimatur of the state.


The city council of the District of Columbia enacted the law in question in December. It authorizes doctors to prescribe what it politely calls a "covered medication" specifically "for the purpose of ending a person's life."

In plain English, that's poisoning.

The law also provides that before a person is approved for state-sanctioned poisoning, two doctors must first judge that the candidate is suffering from a malady likely to kill him within six months. An approved candidate must ingest the poison himself -- and may not do so "in a public place."

The council apparently has keen sensibilities about what should not happen on city streets.

Under the law, pharmacists are authorized to sell an approved poisoning "agent," a drug the pharmacist knows the doctor has prescribed "for the purpose of ending a person's life."

Finally, the law says that the attending physician is permitted to sign the patient's death certificate, but "the cause of death listed on a death certificate shall identify the qualified patient's underlying medical condition ... without reference to the fact that the qualified patient ingested a covered medication."

In other words, the law authorizes doctors and pharmacists to cooperate in the deliberate taking of a person's life while ordering the doctor who authorizes it to deliberately omit what caused the person's death from a legal document.

If a man, after discovering he had terminal cancer, were to shoot himself in the head, the cause of death would not be cancer. It would be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

If a doctor were to hand him a gun and say, "You can legally shoot yourself, and here's a pharmacy where you can buy the bullet," the cause of death would still be a gunshot wound. But it would not be merely self-inflicted; it would be doctor- and pharmacy-assisted.


But don't call it "suicide," "killing" or "homicide" because these words, too, are against the D.C. law. It says, "Actions taken in accordance with this act do not constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, or homicide."

Under Article I, section eight, clause 17 of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to "exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever" over the capital city, the Republican Congress can cancel this law. Under the D.C. Home Rule Act, it has until Friday to do it.

Republican Rep. Brad Wenstrup of Ohio, a doctor, introduced the necessary resolution. In House floor speeches last week, he and five others explained why the law is wrong. Wenstrup noted that it "directs doctors not to place the actual cause and manner of death on the death certificate" and that "once the prescription for lethal medication is filled, oversight is nonexistent," among other things.

Republican Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia noted that this law applies to "those who reside in D.C.," which would include congressmen when the House is in session.

When the committee took up the reversal resolution on Monday, Republican Rep. Steve Russell of Oklahoma spoke passionately for it.

"America, wake up," he said.

"We cannot allow the legalization of a system of expanding murder-suicide pacts," he said.

When it was Connolly's turn to speak, he lectured Russell for seeking to impose his moral vision on jurisdictions that do not share it.

"Maybe your religious orientation says that's wrong," Connolly said. "You're not here as a preacher. You're not here to share or impose your moral views on others. You are here as a legislator. And understanding that we live in a diverse country with competing moral points of view, we must respect that of the District of Columbia and its elected representatives -- whether you agree with it or not."


It is certainly true, as Connolly claims, that there are "competing moral points of view." But there are not competing moralities. There is only one.

Culture-of-death politicians like Connolly may not like that morality, but they cannot escape it.

One of the Ten Commandments says, "Thou shalt not kill." The Declaration of Independence says God gives all human beings an unalienable right to life.

They are right. Connolly is wrong. D.C.'s death-by-doctor prescribed-poison act is an unjust law.

If the Republican leaders of the House and Senate want to do what is right, they will hold recorded votes to reverse it before Friday's deadline.

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