Del. Shane Pendergrass, at podium, talks to reporters. (Photo by Lexie Schapitl)
ANNAPOLIS (Jan. 29, 2016)—Amy Chase lost both of her parents to cancer. She herself has survived both thyroid and breast cancer and as she thinks about the end of her life, she says she wants choices.
“I’m not sure I would ever take this option but I want this option available,” Chase, 51, said Thursday, of ending her life. “I think it should be the last choice that you get to make in life.”
Chase is a volunteer with Compassion and Choices, a group that advocates medical aid in dying, sometimes called physician-assisted suicide. Compassion and Choices held a news conference to support upcoming legislation in the Maryland House and Senate that would authorize doctors to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients.
Supporters of the legislation say that choice is the heart of the issue, not death.
The bill failed last year, and sponsors have made changes to improve its chances this year.
“This bill is not assisted suicide, it is a choice a person makes for themselves,” said Sen. Ron Young, a Democrat from Montgomery who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.
Not everyone thinks this legislation is only about choice. Delegate Tony McConkey, a Republican from Anne Arundel County, calls it the “kill Granny bill,” and said he thinks it will encourage terminally ill patients to end their lives to avoid being a burden to family and loved ones.
“How is it not about suicide or death? We are condoning it…as soon as we say as a society, ‘Suicide is OK, if you want to escape from your problems, go ahead and kill yourself,’ then it becomes acceptable in other situations,” McConkey said.
Supporters like Kim Callinan, the chief program officer for Compassion and Choices, are quick to point out that the bills contain many safeguards to prevent coercion or abuse.
Adults who are deemed mentally competent and have a terminal illness with only six months to live, must make three requests for a prescription for life-ending medication.
The first request, which is oral, must be done when the individual is alone with the doctor. The second request, which is written, must be witnessed by someone who will not benefit from the death; and the final oral request must occur at least 15 days after the original request and at least 48 hours after the written request.
The person must also be able to take the medication themselves, so no one can administer it without their consent.
“‘Assist’ is not an accurate word, ‘assist’ implies that you are doing it for them,” said Delegate Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, who is sponsoring the legislation in the Maryland House. She was one of about 10 Democratic lawmakers present at the news conference.
Not suicide, a better death
Kaili Van Waveren, a 32-year-old activist from Frederick, said even the word “suicide” is inaccurate.
“It’s not choosing death over life, it’s choosing the better death when dying is the only option,” Waveren said.
Delegate Chris West, from Baltimore, was the only Republican who came to the news conference in support of the legislation. He said it came down to a matter of choice, that the government shouldn’t tell citizens how they may or may not die.
“You’re going to find some Republicans who support this legislation, and they will be on the Libertarian side of the continuum,” West said.
Alex Vishio, an assistant minister for social justice with the United Church of Christ, said giving people the choice to end their lives is consistent with religious principles.
“At the heart of the universe is a heartbeat of unbounded love that does not like, and is in fact antithetical to, suffering,” Vishio said. “Especially suffering merely for the sake of suffering.”
CNS Correspondent Lexie Schapitl contributed to this report.