Legislative panel punts on medical-aid-in-dying proposal; recommends bills aimed at improving health care in jails

By: - November 8, 2018 6:04 am

A group of lawmakers shot down proposals to allow medical-aid-in-dying, also known as physician-assisted suicide, in Virginia on Wednesday in a review of a series of legislative recommendations on health care.

Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, requested that the Joint Commission on Health Care study the medical-aid-in-dying debate, in which a patient with less than six months to live obtains lethal drugs through a physician to end his or her life.

The commission’s staff developed several options, including a few related to adding a new end-of-life decision-making tool to Virginia’s code, called the “Physicians Orders for Scope of Treatment,” or POST, form.

It would encourage patients to decide on their treatment preferences with their doctors, and it would then be added to their medical record or a state registry so everyone from first responders to emergency physicians knows the patient’s preferences.

But all the options were killed, with all the committee’s Republicans, as well as Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, voting not to make any recommendations on the topic.

Del. Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg, said his decision to second the motion to take no action was based on his experience as a surgeon.

“The resiliency of the human condition is truly an amazing thing,” he said. “Each one of us has certainly, many, many times in our professional careers been faced with somebody who had no chance, they’re going to die in three months, and yet in fact it just wasn’t their time yet.”

Another physician on the commission, Del. Christopher Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, criticized the POST form options after Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, and Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, proposed adding them to Virginia’s code.

Stolle said the forms would simply add confusion for providers, “and actually may delay implementation of the patient’s desires.”

Kory said in an interview after the meeting that she does not have plans to put medical-aid-in-dying legislation forward this year after the committee’s decision, because she “does not see it as useful right now.”

She was disappointed with the committee’s vote, but said she will still try to convince her opponents that the concept is inherently about helping people avoid suffering at the end of life in hopes of revisiting the topic in later sessions.

The commission did unanimously recommend a handful of actions meant to improve health care in Virginia’s jails and prisons:

♦ One was to codify the Virginia Department of Corrections’s Continuous Quality Improvement Committee, which is tasked    with improving health care delivery within the system. The proposal would require that the group make standardized          reports available to the public on the department’s website. Garrett abstained from that vote.

♦ The commission unanimously agreed to require the Board of Corrections to adopt minimum health care standards for    local and regional jails.

♦ Another unanimous vote was to establish a “best practices committee” for local and regional jails on mental health and      substance abuse.

♦ A fourth legislative proposal is meant to clarify confusion within localities on HIPAA rules around whether community services boards — which contract with the state to provide mental health services by regions — can share patient information with jails and prisons. Though the state allows sharing patient information, some local attorneys have misinterpreted the rule and discouraged the practice.

Few other topics drew substantial interest across the board from the commission members Wednesday. The lawmakers agreed on a proposal to require assisted-living facilities to disclose whether or not they have a backup generator — rather than simply requiring the facilities to purchase generators — and swiftly voted to take no action on options meant to raise awareness of the addiction risks of ADHD medication.

The next step for the recommended legislation is to identify members of the commission to sponsor the bills during the upcoming General Assembly session. Michele Chesser, the group’s executive director, said the goal is to find lawmakers from both the House and Senate, and then introduce the bills as having been recommended by the commission to give them more clout.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the party affiliations of the legislators who voted against the medical-aid-in-dying options. 

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Katie O'Connor
Katie O'Connor

Katie, a Manassas native, has covered health care, commercial real estate, law, agriculture and tourism for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond BizSense and the Northern Virginia Daily. Last year, she was named an Association of Health Care Journalists Regional Health Journalism Fellow, a program to aid journalists in making national health stories local and using data in their reporting. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, where she was executive editor of The Flat Hat, the college paper, and editor-in-chief of The Gallery, the college’s literary magazine.