After an intense and emotional debate this week, members of the Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill that would allow certain terminally ill patients to obtain medication they could take to end their lives.
The vote Thursday was 74-66.
Medically assisted suicide has been debated in America for decades, with Oregon the first state to legalize the practice in 1994.
It’s taken longer for the concept to gain traction in Maryland, where bills were defeated three times previously.
What does the bill do?
Maryland’s “End of Life Options Act” sets out a process for patients to request and obtain life-ending drugs.
The patient must:
» Be at least 18 years old and a Maryland resident.
» Have a terminal illness with a prognosis of less than six months to live.
» Be able to take the medicine themselves.
» Request a prescription at least three times, including once in writing with two witnesses and at least once in private with a doctor.
Participating doctors must verify that the person is not being coerced. The doctors also would have to bring in a consulting physician to confirm the patient’s prognosis.
Patients who are in the process could change their minds at any time.
Doctors wouldn’t be required to prescribe the drugs to any patient, although the law would require them to transfer a patient to another doctor at the patient’s request.
Why did lawmakers support the bill?
Delegates who voted for the bill said they felt it was appropriate to give Marylanders an option to stop suffering at the ends of their lives.
They believe the bill has enough safeguards against patients being persuaded by loved ones to request the prescription.
Public opinion favors medically assisted suicide. A Goucher College poll earlier this year found 62 percent support from Marylanders.
Officials with Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit organization that advocates for this type of legislation, say opinions are shifting in favor of the practice, especially among baby boomers who have dealt with the deaths of their parents and are now facing their own mortality.
In Maryland, one reason for the new interest in the bill may be an influx of new lawmakers and new leaders in the General Assembly following November’s elections.
Why are some opposed to this bill?
Opponents raised concerns that passing the bill may lead to a “slippery slope” of expanding who is eligible to request the fatal prescriptions.
Others feel there aren’t enough safeguards to protect patients from being manipulated into asking for the drugs.
Some lawmakers objected on religious grounds, saying it’s not appropriate to end anyone’s life early because that’s a matter for God to decide.
The Catholic Church, in particular, has worked to oppose the bill in Maryland.
Which other states allow this?
There are laws allowing medically assisted suicide in the District of Columbia and six states: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state.
Montana allows the practice under a state court decision.
Another 17 states are considering bills this year, according to state legislative analysts.
Who are Pip Moyer and Dick Israel?
The full name of the bill honors of two deceased political figures in Annapolis: Richard “Dick” Israel and Roger “Pip” Moyer.
Israel worked for years as a lawyer who provided legal advice to state lawmakers, and he was an alderman on the Annapolis City Council. He was respected for his keen intelligence and beloved for his old-fashioned touches, such as using fountain pens and addressing people with formal titles.
Moyer was mayor of Annapolis in the 1960s and is credited with calming the city following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Moyer, who was white, teamed up with African-American activist Joseph “Zastrow” Simms to walk the city’s neighborhoods and keep the peace.
The House version of the bill moves to the state Senate, which also has its own version.
Sen. Will Smith, who is sponsoring that bill, said the House approval gives the issue momentum in the Senate.
The bill is currently before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
If the House and Senate pass the same version of the bill, it would go to Gov. Larry Hogan for consideration. Hogan could sign the bill into law, allow it to become law without his signature, or veto it. A veto can be overridden by a vote of at least three-fifths of each chamber’s members.
Hogan has said he is undecided on the bill, saying it’s “one that I really wrestle with from a personal basis.”