Maryland's medically assisted suicide bill faces important vote in Senate on Friday

Members of a key Senate committee are expected to vote Friday on a bill that would allow terminally ill Marylanders to request medication they could take to end their life.

The House of Delegates has already approved a version of the measure after an emotional debate earlier this month. But the measure’s fate has been more uncertain in the Senate.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee discussed the bill and dozens of amendments during an arduous voting session Thursday that lasted for more than seven hours. At times, senators intensely debated adding a single word to parts of the bill, known as the “End of Life Options Act.”

In the end, committee members made several significant changes to the bill, including:

» Changing the minimum age to request the prescription from 18 to 21.

» Removing a provision that shielded doctors from civil lawsuits related to prescribing the fatal drugs.

» Adding a requirement for a mental health evaluation.

» Requiring that doctors give patients written information about treatment options that are available for their condition.

» Setting a stricter definition of patients who would qualify, saying they must have an “irreversible” condition that affects their quality of life and that “within a reasonable degree of medical certainty” will result in death within six months. The original bill’s standard was “reasonable medical judgment” that the individual is likely to die within six months.

The bill already requires the patient to make multiple requests for the medication, including in writing, with witnesses and at least once in private with their doctor.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who chairs the committee, said he believes the committee’s changes improve the bill.

As the marathon session wrapped up, he thanked committee members for their hard work.

“This is the way it’s supposed to be,” he said.

The 11-member committee plans to vote on the revised bill Friday afternoon. If the committee passes the bill, it would head to the full Senate next week.

Supporters of the bill believe the full Senate vote will be close, and are counting on the final vote being taken before the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Will Smith, leaves for a Navy deployment to Afghanistan at the end of next week.

Medically assisted suicide bills failed in the General Assembly three times before without even a committee vote.

pwood@baltsun.com

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