Ehrlich Proposes Advance Directives Legislation

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 19, 2006; 4:18 PM

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) today proposed legislation that would make it easier for unmarried couples to make medical decisions for one another, calling it an alternative to a bill he vetoed last year that was supported by gay rights advocates.

Ehrlich's bill would create a database accessible over the Internet of advanced directives, a tool under existing Maryland law that allows people to designate any adult of their choosing to make health care decisions for them. Aides said the centralized registry, which could be accessed by hospitals and other medical providers around the clock, would accomplish many of the same aims as the vetoed bill.

That legislation would have granted certain rights to couples who registered with the state as "life partners," a designation that Ehrlich argued last year "could lead to the erosion of the sanctity of traditional marriage."

Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, a gay rights organization that lobbied hard for last year's bill, credited Ehrlich with making "a good-faith effort."

But Furmansky said Ehrlich's approach would not guarantee as many rights as last year's bill, which also covered decisions related to the funeral of a partner. And he questioned the wisdom of relying on advanced directives rather than creating a new registry that would have been well publicized in the gay community.

"Most people -- gay, straight, from Venus, Mars or Pluto -- don't have advanced medical directives," Furmansky said.

Alan Friedman, Ehrlich's director of legislative relations, said the governor's approach would include a public-relations push to make all Marylanders aware of the availability of advance directives, which are most often used in end-of-life situations.

"Obviously, if we're going to the trouble to do this, we want people to use it," Friedman said. "Health care decision-making is an extremely important thing for everyone."

Aides said Ehrlich's approach is modeled on similar legislation in such states as Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana and Ohio.

Under Ehrlich's proposal, people with advance directives could have a notation on their drivers' license, which would alert medical providers in an emergency.

Friedman said that Ehrlich was keeping a commitment made at the time he vetoed last year's bill to propose an alternative. And he said the governor's office would continue to work with advocates to address remaining issues.

The governor and his aides spent weeks last spring debating whether he should sign the legislation, which was opposed by most Republican lawmakers and derided by conservative activists as part of a larger "homosexual agenda" in Annapolis.

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