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SILVER SPRING – Six years ago, Marcy Rubin of Chevy Chase learned she had breast cancer, which has since spread to her lungs and liver.
Realizing her life soon will end, she dreams of the day she will ingest medicine and die peacefully surrounded by family and friends. Rubin doesn’t want to die in hospice with people she doesn’t know. Nor does she want to commit suicide or starve herself.
That is why she is “devastated” that the Maryland Senate last week failed to pass the End of Life Option Act, by a tied vote of 23 to 23, with Sen. Obie Patterson (D-26) of Prince George’s County opting not to vote.
This is the fourth time the Maryland legislature has tried to enact a law that would allow residents to end their own lives by using legally-obtained medication from a doctor.
The House of Delegates in Annapolis passed a bill March 7 that would have allowed Rubin and other Maryland residents with fewer than six months to live to get a prescription, after they have requested it from a doctor on three separate occasions and are able to take the medicine by themselves.
But the State Senate, in a bill sponsored by Sen. Will C. Smith Jr. (D-20), did not gather enough support to move the bill on, even though almost 40 amendments were discussed in committee, with the vast majority of them attempts to make it harder to obtain the necessary legal permission.
“I am enormously disappointed,” said Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-17).
“I co-sponsored it. I believe really strongly that this should be a very personal decision,” she said. “At the same time, we made more progress than ever before, which makes me cautiously optimistic for the future.”
However, she is not sure of the bill’s future, since Smith said on the floor of the Senate that he does not plan on reintroducing an End of Life Option Act next session.
Kagan said she “was not okay” with many of the amendments that were tacked on during the March 27 debate. Most of the amendments were designed to water down the legislation, and included making sure patients were told all their alternatives and were aware of clinical trials.
Kagan said she had hoped that some of the amendments would have been removed when a committee worked out the differences between the House and Senate bills.
Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-14), who also co-sponsored the bill, was disappointed it did not pass, adding, “I think it is unlikely to come up again soon.”
Del. Eric Luedtke (D-14), who made an impassioned speech during a debate in the Assembly about watching his mother die to explain why he supported the bill, said he was “disappointed” that the senators didn’t have enough votes to move it forward.
He was against the Senate’s additional amendments. “I would have preferred that those amendments would not be on it, and when you consider those amendments were made to get it passed and it didn’t, it looks like they weren’t necessary,” he said.
Luedtke hopes the legislators will try again next session.
Kim Callinan, CEO of Compassion and Choices, said numerous attempts often are needed before a state enacts an End of Life Option law. It took Hawaii 20 years and New Jerseyseven, she said.
But Rubin, who testified in favor of the legislation in both the State House of Delegates and Senate, doesn’t have a lot of time to wait.
She had been living in California but moved back to Chevy Chase to be with her family as her illness progressed.
“I just want to choose my own terms,” she said. Why are some people allowed to choose to starve themselves or deprive themselves of water but she can’t take prescribed medication to end her life? She wondered.
She received her breast cancer diagnosis only four months after her husband passed away from cancer.
Since then, she has undergone chemotherapy regularly, only going off it to see if she qualified for a National Institutes of Health study, which she did not.
Her cancer now is mainly in her lungs. “It continues to grow. They can’t control it.”
She has a message for all the Maryland legislators who voted against the bill. “How could you not let me die with the dignity of being surrounded by my friends and family?” she asked haltingly and while coughing and crying.
To those who favor her going through clinic trials before being allowed to end her life with prescribed medication, she said, “There no more clinical trials for me. How dare they?”