Senate Judiciary considers amending state constitution to permanently ban medically-assisted suicide

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “What was the rationale of putting this into West Virginia’s constitution, and not just doing a bill and making it law?”

That’s what Sen. Vince Deeds, R-Greenbrier, asked Del. Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, during Monday’s meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Deeds was referring to McGeehan’s proposal to amend West Virginia’s constitution to permanently outlaw the already illegal practice of medically-assisted suicide. 

“We’re not always going to be here,” McGeehan replied. “I don’t want to see in 10 years, suddenly this culture invades West Virginia like it has some of our border states.”

McGeehan said that he began to research the “phenomenon” of medically-assisted suicide after an interaction with a constituent. 

“There are 18 states right now seriously considering euthanasia,” McGeehan told committee members. “There are 10 states now – 11 jurisdictions with the District of Columbia – that have legalized it.”

Introduced to the legislature as House Joint Resolution (HJR) 28, McGeehan’s proposal was adopted in the House of Delegates on Feb. 15 by a vote of 88 to nine. Voting against the resolution’s adoption were Delegates Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio; Joey Garcia,D-Marion; Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, Hollis Lewis, D-Kanawha, Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha; Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha; Kayla Young, D-Kanawha; and Anitra Hamilton, D-Monongalia.

Prior to McGeehan’s testimony, SJR 28 was explained to the committee by their counsel, who said, “HJR 28 would create a proposed amendment to be placed on the ballot in the  2024 general election […] entitled ‘Protection From Medically-assisted Suicide.’”

“This would prohibit the legislature from permitting divisions, healthcare providers, or any other person in the state from participating in the practice of medically-assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing of a person,” Counsel said. “It would require the legislature to enact statutes making such actions a crime.”

According to counsel, the resolution would not prevent a medical professional from administering or prescribing pain-relieving medications to allow a patient’s condition to “take its natural course.” Medical professionals would also still be permitted to discontinue life-saving measures based upon the wishes of the patient of their decision maker “so long as the intention is not to kill the patient.”

After the resolution was explained, McGeehan told committee members the story of why he became so interested in medically-assisted suicide. As McGeehan explained, it began right after the conclusion of the 2023 legislative session. 

“I got a phone call from a constituent […] and he asked me to legalize medically-assisted suicide in the State of West Virginia,” McGeehan explained. “I declined […] but we had a long chat.”

“He had gotten a bad prognosis of colon cancer,” McGeehan continued. “They said, ‘You could get treatment for the next two years and there’s a good chance it could go into remission, but if you don’t your prognosis is about six months.’ He was a lonely guy – didn’t have any family.”

According to McGeehan, Oregon recently expanded their laws to allow non-residents to participate in medically-assisted suicide within the state. His constituent advised him that if it were not legalized in West Virginia, he would simply travel to Oregon, which he eventually did. The procedure was performed two weeks later. 

Sen. Mike Stuart, R-Kanawha, raised concern that if the state’s constitution were to be amended in the manner proposed by McGeehan, it could potentially preclude the possibility of reinstating the death penalty. McGeehan, however, assured the committee that the amendment would not conflict with any potential future capital punishment legislation.

“I can direct you to the language (within the resolution) where it’s clearly evident that it doesn’t get in the way of capital punishment,” McGeehan said. 

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, asked McGeehan if he had spoken to representatives of Hospice about the proposal. 

“I think I talked to one or two people from Hospice,” McGeehan said,” But I can’t remember their names.”

“The prohibition alone in the state constitution prevents this euthanasia practice, and medically-assisted suicide practice, from ever becoming an industry in West Virginia,” McGeehan added. 

Ultimately, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved McGeehan’s proposal, and it will now be referred to the Committee on Finance for further consideration. RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of HJR 28 as additional information is made available. 

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