SILVER SPRING – Maryland residents may soon be able to end their own lives by using a legally obtained medication from a doctor.
During an emotional debate on March 7, members of the House of Delegates in Annapolis voted 74 to 66 to allow residents with fewer than six months to live to get a prescription, after they have requested it from a doctor on three separate occasions. They must be able to take the medicine by themselves, without the assistance of the doctor.
The bill now goes to the State Senate, where Sen. Will C. Smith Jr. (D-20) is the lead sponsor. If passed there, it would need Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature before it could become law.
On the House floor, Del.Eric Luedtke (D-14) spoke haltingly of the three members in his family who have attempted suicide, which had convinced him in years past not to support an end-of-life option.
But then, he said, his mother, “the strongest person I ever knew,” was diagnosed with cancer and in terrible pain at the end, which led her to drink her prescribed bottle of morphine, which was not enough to kill her.
“The pain became unmanageable,” he said. She no longer could swallow solid foods, walk or control her body, Luedtke said.
“I began to ask myself, what right I had as a government official, even as her son, what right did I have” to tell her she could not end her life,” Luedtke said.
“Should the government dictate to people, their only option is to die in pain?” he asked. “This bill, in my opinion, is not the government putting its fingers on the scales; it’s the government taking its fingers off the scales.”
Every Montgomery County delegate supported the bill, according to Del. Emily Shetty (D-18), who said she viewed the end-of-life option “primarily through a patient lens.”
She said she believes an end-of-life option should be available to all, “if they choose it. I think that’s the very critical point.”
Del. Jared Solomon (D-18) also supported the option, noting, “The government does not have a place in telling people how they should spend their days.”
Solomon said that speeches by his fellow delegates, both pro and con, caused him to cry. “I think there were times when there were very few dry eyes” among the legislators.
During the debate, several delegates talked personally of family and friends in their last days, some of whom are still alive today despite being told they would likely die within a few months.
Others talked about their religious views. Still others questioned where it would all end, wondering if state-sanctioned suicide was next.
The Maryland Catholic Conference opposes the bill, calling it physician-assisted suicide, “because it seeks to legalize the intentional taking of human life; this deliberate activity violates the most-basic tenet of our belief in the sacredness of life, and simultaneously poses many dangers to vulnerable populations,” it notes on its website.
The Hospice and Palliative Care Network of Maryland, of which Montgomery Hospice is a part, did not take a stand on this legislation.
Instead, explained Executive Director Peggy Funk, her organization believes this proposal will enable more people to have end-of-life discussions earlier in the trajectory of their illness.
“We do feel that this bill provides an opportunity for the Network to educate both legislators and the general public on the importance of discussion on end-of-life care issues and the importance of electing the hospice benefit early on rather than waiting until the family is in a crisis situation.”
The bill that was passed last week requires a Maryland resident to request for assistance in dying three separate times. The first would be an oral request to the person’s physician. Next, the person must submit a written request followed by a second oral request, which would have to be made at least 15 days after the first oral request and 48 hours after the written request.
This is the fourth time the end-of-life option has been before the delegates. It failed to garner enough votes in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and was not introduced in 2018.