D.C. Mayor's Office
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed an assisted-suicide bill.
D.C. Mayor's Office
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed an assisted-suicide bill.

WASHINGTON — District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser Dec. 20 signed into law a bill allowing doctors to prescribe lethal medications to terminally ill patients who want to end their lives.

Congress has to approve all laws in the district and has 30 days to review it. The earliest the law could take effect is October.

On a voice vote Nov. 15, a majority of the 13-member District of Columbia City Council approved the "Death with Dignity Act" that permits physicians in the District of Columbia to legally prescribe the drugs to patients who have been deemed mentally competent and who have received a terminal diagnosis of six months or less.

After the vote, Michael Scott, director of the D.C. Catholic Conference, blasted the council's decision. "Once again council members who voted for the legislation failed to address serious public policy concerns raised by the broad and diverse coalition opposing the legislation," he said in a statement.

Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette M. Alexander, chairperson of the Health and Human Service Committee, and Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau offered the only votes opposing the measure. There was no discussion of the legislation.

Prior to the vote, the council approved an amendment proposed by Alexander that requires the Department of Health to include data from all patients who submit written or oral requests for the lethal medication in an annual statistical report. Prior to the amendment, the legislation only required that the report include data from a sample of information sent by doctors.

If the law takes effect, the district would be the nation's seventh jurisdiction to allow doctors to assist the terminally ill to kill themselves. Five states -- Vermont, Oregon, Washington state, Montana and New Mexico -- previously allowed assisted suicide. On Nov. 8, Colorado residents approved a proposition legalizing physician-assisted suicide there.

Similar physician-assisted suicide laws have been introduced and have failed in 22 states.