A bill that would allow terminally ill patients to legally obtain a lethal dose of medicine to end their lives advanced in the Maryland House of Delegates on Wednesday, setting the stage for what will likely be a dramatic vote on Thursday.
It is the first time — after three attempts in recent years — that the legislation will be debated on the floor of the General Assembly.
The bill moved forward without any discussion, even though it has both strong support and strong opposition in the Democratic-majority House to make Maryland the seventh state to allow patients to get help in ending their own lives.
Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel), one of the lead critics of the bill, said he would share his concerns when the legislation is taken up Thursday.
The vote is expected to be close, he said.
“I’m feeling very, very optimistic,” said Del. Shane E. Pendergrass (D-Howard), the bill’s lead sponsor. “But until we see the votes, I don’t say that I’m confident.”
Maryland is one of dozens of states where advocates have pushed in recent years to enact right-to-die legislation. Momentum began building after the highly-publicized 2014 death of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman with terminal brain cancer who moved to Oregon to end her life legally. Six states, including California, Vermont and Washington, as well as the District, allow patients to get assistance in ending their lives.
The strongest opposition to the legislation has come from Catholic organizations. Maryland, which has deep Catholic roots, would be the southernmost state to adopt a right-to-die law.
Pendergrass introduced the bill in Maryland in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Each time, it failed in committee.
But public support for such measures has grown. A recent Goucher College poll found that 6 in 10 Maryland residents favor allowing doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medicine to terminally ill patients.
“Every person is one bad death away from supporting this bill,” Pendergrass said, recalling a witness who testified the first year she sponsored the legislation.
The bill would apply only to terminally ill people who doctors say have less than six months to live. A patient would have to make three requests, both oral and written, to end his or her life, with waiting periods and the ability to rescind the request at any time.
If the House votes to approve the bill, it would move to the Senate. If it passes there, it would go to Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who could choose to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.
Kipke said he plans to offer a “serious argument” against the bill Thursday.
“This isn’t the right policy for Maryland,” he said. “All Marylanders want a compassionate and dignified end of life, and we have those options today in our state. And if people don’t have access to that, that’s what we need to work on.”
The House advanced the bill on the first day that Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford) returned to the chamber since her colleagues voted to censure her last Thursday. Lisanti, who used a racial slur to describe a majority-black legislative district in Prince George’s County, missed the legislative sessions on Friday, Monday and Tuesday.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) criticized Lisanti on Wednesday morning during his opening remarks at the bimonthly Board of Public Works meeting, calling her use of the racial epithet “inexcusable” and saying the House should take the “rare, severe and drastic” step of expelling her for her conduct.
Franchot has been feuding with legislative leaders over a bill that would strip his office of its power to regulate tobacco and alcohol. That measure also advanced Wednesday morning, again with no debate. It faces a final vote in the House before moving to the Senate.
In his remarks, Franchot decried what he called a “culture of secrecy” in Annapolis that, he said, resulted in Lisanti’s use of the racial slur — in a conversation with colleagues — going unreported for weeks.
Lisanti has refused calls to step down.