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Coalition Testimony at D.C. Council Oversight Gets Agency Action Releasing Overdue Data

Fritz Mulhauser | January 20, 2024

A D.C. agency this week published a data report within 24 hours of Open Government Coalition testimony that it was two years overdue.

Annual data collection was included in the Death With Dignity Act passed in 2016 to check for anything like some witnesses’ predictions the act could enable abuse of vulnerable seniors. The law allows competent terminally ill D.C. residents to legally obtain a physician’s prescription for drugs to end their life humanely and peacefully.

The Department of Health fell far behind in publishing the data, even withdrawing some issued reports for reasons that appeared to be readily — but never — cured. To repeated Coalition FOIA requests, agency officials said that the law requires only gathering the data each year but says nothing specific about publishing it.  

So until this week, the latest data on the DOH website were from 2020.

The law’s requirement presents no major burdens of collecting or analyzing data. Only a few people ask for the prescriptions the law allows, and fewer use them.

At the request of community members following the results of the D.C. law and seeking to defend it against opponents in the U.S. Congress, the Open Government Coalition testified last year and again last week (18) to the Council Committee on Health, chaired by Christina Henderson (I-At Large), on the agency’s failure to issue reports on the annual data as the law requires.

See the testimony on video here, beginning at timestamp 0:54:53 (full written statement here).

The committee’s spring 2023 budget report on the agency for the present 2024 fiscal year described multiple delayed reports and directed agency attention to “timelier” publication. At this week’s hearing, Henderson reported contacting the City Administrator three times since last year about inadequate DOH public health reporting. She said “when we don’t publish reports on time, it looks like we’re hiding something.”

The agency late Friday (19) notified the Coalition that the Death With Dignity annual report for 2021 (due February 2022) was finally, after two years, just posted online. See the three pages here. That leaves only the report for 2022 unpublished — by any reasonable reading of the law now almost a year old (due after data collection closed February 2023).