Will Congress let Mary Klein decide how to die?

Will Congress let Mary Klein decide how to die?

Mary Klein hopes the government will hurry up and let her die.

It’s not that she wants her life to end. To the contrary, she says, she is doing absolutely everything she can to live. That includes surgery to cut the cancer out of her ovaries, uterus, colon, diaphragm and stomach lining, followed by five separate months-long rounds of chemotherapy. But, she says, these life-extending options will stop working one day, and when they do she wants to be able to use a life-ending one, to die on her own terms and by her own hand.

Klein, 69, is a resident of Washington, D.C., the latest locus of the growing debate over laws allowing terminally ill patients to decide when to die. Last year, the district became the seventh jurisdiction in the United States to legalize what here was called Death With Dignity — joining Washington state, Montana, Vermont, California, Colorado and Oregon.

But D.C. is not a state, and here Congress can override laws passed by the local city government. In the months since the D.C. act was passed, national legislators have been aiming to do exactly that, trying first to vote to nullify it, and, when that failed, attempting to defund it. That puts patients like Klein in the position of fighting not only against their disease and for their cause but also, unexpectedly, for the rights of their hometown to govern itself.

The result is a race literally to the death. City officials including the mayor and the director of public health have said they are determined to implement the law before Congress can cut off the funding to do so.

“They are scrambling to get this done,” Klein says. “I just hope they do that in time.”