Maryland House passes bill to legalize doctor-assisted suicide; legislator asks, ‘Are we becoming ab
Legislation allowing terminally-ill patients in Maryland to take their own lives got one step closer to becoming law Thursday after the state House of Delegates voted to pass a measure that failed in previous sessions.
Under the so-called “End of Life Options Act,” patients age 18 years or older who have been diagnosed with a terminal disease and a prognosis of six months or less may be prescribed drugs to end their lives, provided they make the request three times (one of which must be in writing, another in private).
The bill failed to clear the House in the previous three legislative sessions but passed this week on a 74-66 vote, the Baltimore Sun reported.
One factor in the law’s success this time around was a handful of lawmakers, such as Democrat Del. Eric Luedtke, reversing their past opposition after hearing or witnessing stories of elderly loved ones who suffered at the end of their lives. Luedtke recounted the story of his mother’s battle with esophageal cancer, which she attempted to escape by drinking a bottle of liquid morphine.
“I began to ask myself what right I had, as a government official, and even as her son, to dictate to her how her life should end?” he said. “What right do any of us have to determine that for another individual?”
Others argued that their personal experiences demonstrated the dangers of assisted suicide. Democrat Del. Cheryl Glenn explained how her late sister was likely suicidal after a stroke but lived long enough to reconcile with her estranged son.
“She would have left this world without making peace with her only son” if she could have ended her life with a doctor’s assistance, Glenn argued. “We don’t know what tomorrow holds, we really don’t.”
“Are we becoming above God?” Republican Del. Ric Metzgar asked. Democrat Del. Jay Walker agreed that the bill was “overstepping our bounds.”
The Sun described the debate as “somber” and tearful but noted that after the vote went this way, bill sponsor Del. Shane Pendergrass celebrated with a smile and a fist-bump to Del. Kumar Barve, both of whom are Democrats.
“Allowing doctors to prescribe lethal doses of addictive drugs with no way to make sure those drugs don't end up in the wrong hands or on our streets is bad policy,” the Maryland Catholic Conference declared in a petition opposing the measure. “And there is nothing in this bill to ensure that insurance companies don't deny coverage of life-saving treatments and instead fully pay for these lethal drugs because it's more cost efficient to end life than it is to save it.”
“Despite what proponents claim, this bill does nothing to ensure the elderly, veterans, people with disabilities, and those diagnosed with terminal illness are not pressured into taking their lives because this would be an option,” the Conference warned.
It remains to be seen how the legislation will fare in Maryland’s Democrat-controlled Senate, but Democrat Sen. Will Smith, the sponsor of the Senate version, says he’s optimistic about the House victory giving the cause “a lot of momentum” in what he predicts will ultimately be a “very close vote.”
Liberal Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, meanwhile, has yet to come out for or against the bill, saying only that he “really wrestle(s) with (the issue) from a personal basis” and that he will carefully consider it should it pass the legislature.
Doctor-assisted suicide is currently legal in just six states and the District of Columbia, according to Live Action News, though another 17 (such as New Mexico) are currently considering legislation to legalize it. Oregon is currently debating whether to expand the criteria of patients eligible for its own assisted-suicide option.
Last summer, the prestigious American Medical Association declined to reaffirm its longstanding opposition to doctor-assisted suicide, instead ending a two-year study period by voting for another round of review.
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