Mayor Muriel Bowser quietly signed legislation that allows terminally ill adults to end their lives with the help of a doctor, on Monday.
The council passed the Death with Dignity Act last month, with 11 members voted in favor of it and two against. Even with that level of support, it’s not a done deal. Congress still has 30 days to review the legislation.
For supporters of physician assisted death, like D.C. resident Mary Klein, the mayor’s signature was welcome news.
"When pain becomes excruciating, intolerable, that drugs can only put you in a coma. You should have the right for a peaceful death. One in which you're coherent and have your loved ones around you,” she said.
Klein has terminal cancer. She was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer 2.5 years ago.
"I really enjoy living, and I am doing everything I can to extend my life,” Klein explained. "When I can't extend my life anymore, I'm not going to have any choices and I'm going to be dying of ovarian cancer. This is not suicide. If I were to take medication for a peaceful and dignified death, because I'm dying. It's the cancer that's killing me," said Klein.
Klein is one face in an emotional debate.
Critics maintain that "Death with Dignity" laws are dangerous. Especially for vulnerable groups, like the elderly and people with disabilities.
Samantha Crane, with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, opposes this one.
"When a person becomes disabled they often lack the supports they need to have very quality lives and they experience periods of depression. When you respond to those types of feelings by saying well, maybe it's time to go then you're depriving people of the opportunity to ability to engage in suicide prevention…and have more meaningful lives," said Crane.
Crane said there are examples of people being pressured into assisted suicide.
"A woman in Oregon named Wendy Melcher… there was no record of her asking for physician assisted suicide from a doctor," said Crane.
For Klein, it's an issue of respect.
"I respect that they wouldn't want to apply for the medication,” she began. “And I ask for the same respect that as an individual I have the right to decide how to die."