Howard legislator is primary House sponsor for death with dignity bill

Howard legislator is primary House sponsor for death with dignity bill

A member of Howard County's General Assembly delegation is the primary sponsor for a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill Marylanders. 

Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat from District 13, introduced the legislation in the House on Friday. She said afterward that she is sponsoring the bill "because people should have control over their own destiny.

"I think that what is happening over time is, with the more interventions that we have to keep people alive -- not to give them quality of life, but to keep them alive -- the more clear it has become to people that they don't want all those interventions," she added. "I think with the scientific discoveries also comes the thought process that we want to make the decisions, and we don't always want to make our lives the longest possible, but rather the best possible."

The issue of death with dignity, which was banned in the state in 1999 after a national furor over Jack Kevorkian, a Michigan doctor and euthanasia advocate who was convicted of second-degree murder for helping a terminally ill patient end his life, has resurfaced. Last fall, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, a California woman with terminal brain cancer, made headlines when she publicly announced her decision to take advantage of Oregon's death-with-dignity law. Maynard said she hoped her advocacy would inspire other states to consider granting their residents the same option. 

Pendergrass told the Baltimore Sun that watching her grandfather suffer from Parkinson's disease when she was a child influenced her support for right-to-die legislation. 

"My parents wouldn't even take me to the nursing home during the last year and half of his life," Pendergrass told the Sun. "He was a lucid man trapped in a deteriorating body. He didn't want to live like that." 

On Friday, she said she couldn't predict the bill's prospects this year. 

"I'm always an optimist," Pendergrass said. "If it doesn't pass in one year, there's always another year, and eventually it will pass. So the question is 'when it will pass, not will it pass.'" 

Maryland's death with dignity bill is named after Richard E. Israel, 70, a former Annapolis alderman who has Parkinson's disease and has become an advocate for right-to-die legislation, and former Annapolis mayor Roger "Pip" Moyer, who died in January. He also had Parkinson's disease. 

Before the bill can make it to the House floor for a vote, it must be approved by the House's Health and Government Operations Committee, where Pendergrass is vice chair. 

If the bill were to pass, it would also have to make it past the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan, who is Catholic and has indicated that he opposes physician-assisted suicide. 

Two other Howard County legislators, delegates Eric Ebersole and Clarence Lam, both Democrats from District 12, have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. 

Capital Gazette reporter Chase Cook and Baltimore Sun reporters Erin Cox and Scott Dance contributed to this story.

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