The Maryland House of Delegates voted to pass the “End of Life Options Act,” moving the General Assembly one step closer to legalizing medically assisted suicide, more commonly known as death with dignity. The vote passed 74-66, after failing in three prior General Assembly sessions.
The bill would allow terminally ill people to end their lives through the use of aid-in-dying medication, prescribed to them by a qualified medical professional. Advocates argue that this allows patients to regain control over their lives, avoid the worst of the suffering that comes with many terminal illnesses, and gives them the ability to die with dignity–hence the name of the major movement pushing for states to adopt these laws.
People wishing to utilize the laws must meet a stringent set of requirements, including having a diagnosis of terminal illness with expectation of less than six months to live, being over the age of 18, possessing the ability to self-administer the medication, as well as having requested the prescription on three separate occasions including once in writing, in the presence of witnesses. The last of these requirements is meant to assure that there is no coercion or lack of judgment in the process.
A companion bill sponsored by Senator William Smith Jr (D) awaits debate in the Senate. If it should pass, the bill will head to Governor Hogan’s desk where if signed, it will become law, making Maryland the seventh state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Hogan has not publicly stated his opinion on the issue, though according to The Baltimore Sun, the governor has stated the bill is “one that I really wrestle with from a personal basis.”
In the months and days leading up to the final vote, Delegates in support and in opposition passionately defended their point of view. Delegate Brian Crosby (D), who is currently representing the legislative district that encompasses St. Mary’s College of Maryland, voted against the bill. In a post from his delegate Facebook page Crosby stated that “While I voted against this bill, I deeply respect the feelings and experiences of all those in favor of it.” He went on to say that he based his decision partially on the feedback he received from his constituents and volunteers, many of whom opposed the bill. Crosby also voiced “very strong reservations about the lack of precautions/safeguards in place,” going on to explain that as an Army officer he had lost some of his own fellow soldiers to suicide. He ended by pointing out that the policy is very rarely used, citing Washington DC’s death with dignity act that passed last year and has since its enactment, never been used.
This year’s Maryland March for Life, an affiliate of the national March for Life organization, made medically assisted suicide a key point of contempt for their protest, along with the usual anti-abortion sentiments. Brian Griffiths, Editor-in-Chief for RedMaryland.com wrote an op-ed in the Capital Gazette where he spoke out against the death with dignity, stating that “Supporters of assisted suicide are making the argument that life is not worth living,” going on to state that “The common theme for proponents of both abortion and assisted suicide shows the lack of respect for life throughout society.” A few hundred marchers attended the event, though per usual the focus was on abortion instead of this bill.
According to the Death with Dignity National Center, the push for more states to enact compassionate legislation stems “from the basic idea that it is the terminally ill people, not the government and its interference, politicians and their ideology, or religious leaders and their dogma, who should make their end-of-life decisions and determine how much suffering they should endure.” The organization is based in Portland Oregon, the first state to legalize medically assisted suicide after a narrowly won ballot initiative. The organization now works to make sure that other states adopt similar legislation, providing both legal assistance and educational support to lawmakers wishing to do so.
The “End of Life Options Act” still must pass the Senate and be signed by the Governor, which is no small feat as it has taken multiple attempts to get it past the House of Delegates. Still, Maryland is one step closer to legally allowing medically assisted suicide, something that comforts some, while others bow their head in disgust.