A joint House committee is scheduled to hear hours of what should be emotional and thought-provoking testimony on Friday on whether Maryland should become the sixth state in the country to allow terminally-ill patients to take their own lives.
The hearing is the first this year on the End of Life Options Act, a bill that would allow a doctor to prescribe life-ending drugs to someone who physicians say has six months or less to live and is able to self-administer the medication.
The measure died in committee last year, Over the past several months, a workgroup met to make changes to the bill that, they think, address many of the concerns lawmakers had during last year’s debate.
Among them: a provision requiring patients to have a private consultation with their doctor to ensure there is no coercion and another that requires the state to keep a database of how often patients end their own lives. The work group also renamed the bill from Death with Dignity to End of Life Options Act.
Bill sponsor Del. Shane Pendergrass (D-Howard) said recently that she was “optimistic” about the bill’s chances, especially after California passed a similar measure last fall.
“Seeing what California did makes us relook at this, it makes other legislators and citizens relook at it,” Pendergrass said. “When you have this in the back of your mind and you go through life and you experience that one bad death that we’re all away from in supporting this bill, you get moved to want to help people not suffer.”
Testimony is scheduled to come from people who are terminally ill, caregivers who lost loved ones to painful deaths and members of the disabilities community who worry about a potential for aid-in-dying laws to be abused. The Catholic Church has joined the disabilities community in opposition to the legislation.
“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have historically faced discrimination and lack of access to medical care based on their perceived value,” said Christine Marchand, executive director of The Arc Maryland. “Assisted suicide raises significant concerns for people with disabilities as well as those who will acquire a disability as a result of a terminal diagnosis who are perceived as less valuable.”