SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is planning to use congressional authority to try to block a new Washington, D.C., law allowing doctors to help end the lives of terminally ill patients.
"I think it's controversial enough that it deserves a vote in the Congress," Chaffetz said. "Washington, D.C., is different than the states. That's the way it's set up in the Constitution, and we do get to weigh in on these matters."
As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that oversees the District of Columbia, Chaffetz said he expects to take up the issue once a disapproval resolution is filed.
"I've just been opposed to assisted suicide from a moral perspective," Chaffetz said. "(Based on) my own personal belief system, I just don't believe that's the direction we should be going."
Assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, California and Colorado. The Utah Legislature has rejected similar measures in the past, but Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, already has a bill drafted for the 2017 session.
Chaffetz said he would oppose Utah passing an assisted suicide bill, "but the immediate question for us is: Should assisted suicide be legal in the District of Columbia?"
The Washington, D.C., law allowing patients with six months or less to live to ask their doctors for lethal medication went to Congress on Friday for a required 30-day review.
Overturning it requires support from the House and Senate, as well as the president.
Chavez-Houck said the attempt by Congress to undo the law is "a slap in the face to terminally ill patients and their advocates" who succeeded in convincing the D.C. council that the law was needed.
"I am frustrated it is one of my own congressional delegation members who is taking the lead on it," she said. "You're imposing unnecessary suffering on patients that just want to exercise their self-determination."
But Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka said she is grateful for Chaffetz's efforts to stop the law. The conservative organization opposes assisted suicide, she said, because its members value life.
"I think it is harmful to society, our culture, if we start to accept the fact that we'll just let doctors help people die," she said.
Ruzicka said she hopes the fight in Congress to stop the Washington, D.C., law will help stall similar proposals in Utah and other states by getting "the message out there that this is not acceptable."
Chavez-Houck said she doesn't expect her third try at passing an assisted suicide bill in Utah to get very far, especially after leaders of the LDS Church urged members in Colorado last fall to oppose a ballot proposition legalizing physician-assisted suicide.
Utah's predominant Mormon faith considers assisted suicide to be euthanasia and a violation of God's commandments, according to a church policy guide known as Handbook 2.
"It's looking dismal right now," Chavez-Houck said, although the passage of the ballot proposition in Colorado and legislative efforts in New Jersey and other states suggests to her that "there may be hope."