Md. Senate Votes to Ban Assisted Suicide
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 1999; Page B2
After a series of emotional arguments, the Maryland Senate voted yesterday to ban people from helping others kill themselves.
The measure thrusts Maryland into the nationwide debate on whether those who help others commit suicide should be considered criminals. Thirty-six states have enacted bans on assisted suicide, while one – Oregon – has legalized physicians helping terminally ill patients end their lives, a practice that also is legal in the Netherlands.
Those differences in approach weighed heavily on Maryland senators yesterday, and their close vote, 28 to 19, showed they were far from unanimous in how to deal with the issue. Many who voted against the ban said proponents had failed to show there was a problem with assisted suicide in Maryland that required the legislature's intervention.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County) passed the Senate last year and died in the House. Its fate in the House is unclear this year, but it does have the support of Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D).
Unlike Michigan, where physician Jack Kevorkian has launched a nationally watched campaign to allow assisted suicides, there have been no cases reported in Maryland.
"This is a solution in search of a problem," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's), who opposed the bill.
But Sen. Christopher J. McCabe (R-Howard) said: "If we don't think there's an active debate, we're deceiving ourselves. Dr. Kevorkian wants to challenge every legislative body and every American citizen to look at this issue. There is a national debate, and we're trying to be proactive."
The bill says that an individual or licensed health care provider cannot coerce someone to commit suicide nor may they knowingly provide the means for people to kill themselves.
Some health providers told lawmakers they welcomed the bill because it provided guidelines they thought would protect them as they tried to manage the pain of terminally ill patients with medication that could, if misused, kill the patients.
The Senate's only physician, newly elected Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County), supported the proposal.
But Sen. Paula C. Hollinger (D-Baltimore County), a former nurse who has been active on health care issues in Annapolis, opposed the bill and said it would put nurses, doctors and other medical personnel at risk of prosecution.
She said she was worried that nurses would be at risk if patients who wanted to kill themselves began hoarding pain pills the nurses had delivered to them in order to overdose.
"I don't want to be the nurse giving out those pills. ... If that patient saves up the pills and commits suicide, I'm the one that's going to be behind bars," Hollinger said.
But Stone said that was not the case. The bill requires that someone must have had the intent to help someone commit suicide in order for them to be prosecuted.
"This will clarify how far physicians can go in providing pain relief. It will offer them protections," Stone said. "It will outlaw Dr. Kevorkian."
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