Can Congress Legally Override Assisted Suicide Law?

By | April 12, 2017

Just as vehemently as anti-abortion advocates fight for a fetus’s right to life, those who believe in being able to die with dignity continue to fight for right-to-die laws. In Washington DC, up until recently, it has been legal for a person to take their own life with outside assistance.

Assisted suicide has been the source of great debate, however, from both sides of the political fence.  Many people are unhappy to hear that Congress has overridden the law in Washington DC, and many question whether Congress has the power or license to do so.

In December of last year, Mayor Muriel Bowser historically signed the Death with Dignity Act to help those who are dying of a terminal illness and don’t wish to live any longer. It allowed doctors within the Washington area the capacity to aid terminal patients by administering a lethal dosage of medication to those individuals who were likely going to die within the next six months. It was designed for those who did not  have the capacity of ending their suffering alone.

Under the US Constitution, however, Congress has the legal right to block any legislation that is passed by the council presided over in DC. As a result, on Monday the House Oversight Committee, led by Utah’s Representative Jason Chaffetz, took a vote that ended in the reversal of the Act by 22-14. The last step is for the vote to eventually end on President Trump’s desk.

Many in the state legislature believe that Congress not only does not have the authority to get involved in states’ matters, but that they should have much more pressing matter to attend to.

Problems with terrorism and bans on immigration should be Congress’ focus, not assisted suicide that has nothing at all to do with governmental agencies. Chaffetz, however, believes that if Washington DC can uphold such a law, then it can likely begin to go into effect in other states. And that is something that not only is he against, but so too are the majority of those he represents at his own state’s level.

Bowser, however, believes that it is an extreme overreach of power. It should be every state’s right to decide how to govern social issues at a state level. And if decided upon by the state government that a law should be enacted, the federal government should not have the authority to come in and reverse what the people have decided upon.

Washington DC has to follow specific rules that were decided upon by the Constitution. Therefore, Chaffetz believes that it was not an overreach but a legal right to reverse an act that he thinks goes against the founding beliefs of America. The pursuit of life is integral to what the Constitution provides, and assisted suicide isn’t where one person takes their own life, but has outside assistance in the termination of it.

There have been grave concerns about wrongful death claims and assisted suicide in many legal circles. Although there is little belief that anyone should have to live suffering in a terminal state, allowing others to aid in taking someone’s life is a slippery slope.

There is no way to guarantee that the least of society can’t succumb to coercion, or have someone else make the decision for them. If someone is without the capacity to make a mentally strong decision about the fate of their own life, who is to say that there won’t be other influences that alter their situation?

At what point do some legislators believe it is okay to put the decision of someone’s life into the hands of someone else? Obviously, in some cases, someone who is suffering will be incapable of ending their own life. But if they aren’t able to terminate their life then what guarantee is there that another individual won’t step in to make the ultimate decision — and one that isn’t what the person being euthanized wants?

It is a very complex act and one that comes with repercussions on both sides. If Congress can reverse the act, there will undoubtedly be many Washington DC residents who will feel disenfranchised, having decided and voted on it. If Congress can override what the community wants, then why should residents bother to participate in the legal process at all?

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