Maryland House Passes Assisted Suicide Bill



ANNAPOLIS (March 8, 2019)—The Maryland House on Thursday passed a measure that would give terminally ill patients six months from death the option to end their lives by taking prescribed lethal medication.

House bill 399, or the End-of-Life Option Act, received 74 votes for and 66 against in an impassioned chamber session.

Individuals are required to consent three times to death. "Lethal injection, mercy killing or euthanasia," would not be legal under the legislation, according to the bill's analysis. There would be criminal penalties for people who coerce others into ending their lives.

The debate began with some tension, but soon cooled off, as personal anecdotes of experiences with death or near-death brought tears to the eyes of members of the chamber.

Democratic and Republican delegates opposed the bill, saying they had religious and moral objections, and detailing how important each day alive was to many of their relatives who died from terminal illnesses.

"Because I am a believer," God should be answered to, not nurses or doctors, Delegate Jay Walker, D-Prince George's, said. "Give my Lord the opportunity of a miracle."

"Doctors take an oath, the Hippocratic oath, to do no harm," Delegate Haven Shoemaker, R-Carroll, told Capital News Service.

"We're encouraging (physicians) to contravene that oath," Shoemaker said.

However, according to a 2015 blog post by Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing at Harvard Medical School: "While some medical schools ask their graduates to abide by the Hippocratic Oath, others use a different pledge—or none at all."

"Think about vulnerable populations" who could be taken advantage of by this legislation, said House Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel. "Less than 5 percent of the poor receive hospice care at the end of life."

If many people begin ending their lives prematurely, "we wouldn't look for a cure," to their diseases, said Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore and Harford counties.

Delegate Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore, spoke of her sister who died of a terminal illness.

She would not have made peace with her only son if she had ended her life early, Glenn said. "We don't know what tomorrow will hold."

Democratic supporters argued that individuals deserve the right and option to choose when they die.

Delegate Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, lead sponsor of the legislation, told the stories of two people who fought breast and brain cancer.

Knowing the medication to end your life is there gives comfort and control to an individual who is suffering, Pendergrass said.

Delegate Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, said he had three family members attempt suicide, and spoke of his mother who tried to end her life from the pain of her cancer.

"Despite my personal hatred for suicide, 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," Luedtke said.

Individuals can already choose to not be resuscitated and be taken off a feeding tube, Delegate Elizabeth Proctor, D-Charles and Prince George's, said. The bill just gives people at the end of life another option, Proctor said.

Delegate Sandy Bartlett, D-Anne Arundel, told her story of anguish following mastectomies for breast cancer.

Deciding to end one's life is up to "her, and her choice only," Bartlett said, speaking of herself.

The bill "does not impose beliefs on anyone," said Delegate Terri Hill, D-Baltimore and Howard counties, a physician. "I expect that the positions we've taken have been thoughtful and spiritually guided."

The chamber was silent following the final vote.

Now that the legislation has passed the House, an identical bill must pass the Senate, and then must not be vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan, R, to become law.

"I'm going to give a lot of heartful and thoughtful consideration," to the act, Hogan said in February.

California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized physician-assisted suicide, and Montana has no law prohibiting it.

Seventy-two percent of Americans would support ending a terminally ill patient's life, according to a 2018 Gallup poll.

The legislation, originally titled the "Richard E. Israel and Roger 'Pip" Moyer Death with Dignity Act," was first presented to the General Assembly in 2015.

Israel and Moyer were former members of Annapolis government, and both died in 2015 from Parkinson's disease.

Pendergrass said after years of supporting the bill, it is "just a remarkable moment" to see the vote of passage for this legislation.

She attributed the bills' success to testimony she heard and has repeated many times: "Everyone is one bad death away from supporting this bill."

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