WASHINGTON, DC COUNCIL APPROVES DEATH WITH DIGNITY ACT AFTER TESTIMONY FROM HOWARD ALUMNA

The D.C. Council has given final approval to legislation that would allow physicians to prescribe fatal drugs to terminally ill residents in the city, making the District the seventh jurisdiction nationwide to allow the practice. D.C. is the first predominantly black community to legalize what is called “death with dignity,” overcoming objections from some African American residents and others who worried that ill patients could be coerced into an early death. 

Some African American residents have said the legislation reminds them of the Tuskegee experiments, in which hundreds of black men with syphilis in Alabama unwittingly participated in a 40-year federal study of the disease’s long-term effect. The men were told they were being given “free health care” and were being treated for the disorder, when in fact they were not.

“They are afraid that somebody is going to take advantage of them the way they have been taken advantage of in the past,” said Dr. Omega Silva, M.D. '67, the black D.C. physician working with Compassion and Choices, a national advocacy group trying to pass the legislation. “We have to assure them they are in control of everything.”

African Americans, who make up nearly half of the population in the District, have been the group most consistently opposed to the practice.

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