The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Maryland must at last allow dying people to avoid unnecessary suffering

Del. Shane Pendergrass (D-Howard) speaks in support of an aid-in-dying bill in 2015.
Del. Shane Pendergrass (D-Howard) speaks in support of an aid-in-dying bill in 2015. (Brian Witte/AP)
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LEGISLATION THAT would have allowed medical assistance in dying for people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness came within one vote of passing the Maryland General Assembly last year. The House had approved the bill, but it failed in the Senate on a 23-to-23 vote after one senator said he couldn’t make up his mind and refused to vote. The bill is up for consideration again this year, for the fifth time since 2015. We can only hope that lawmakers finally give their approval so that more dying people can, if they choose, be spared unnecessary suffering.

Supporters of the measure, which would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the option to get a doctor’s prescription for life-ending medication, started the session with guarded optimism. The legislation was carefully crafted, modeled after the experience of Oregon and other states that have successfully authorized death with dignity with none of the dire consequences conjured up by opponents. There were 53 sponsors. (The number has since increased to 69.) Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), a lead sponsor, was the new chairman of a key committee critical to the bill’s advancement. Key legislative leaders were on board. And significantly, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) expressed a willingness to look at both sides of the issue.

Unfortunately, it is unclear whether the legislation will make it to the floor of either chamber before the session’s end next month. The House, which easily passed the bill last year, seems to be looking to the Senate to take the first step. But Mr. Smith and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore) have said they won’t advance the bill unless they are assured the votes for passage. One senator who voted for the bill last year resigned for health reasons and was replaced by a former delegate who voted against it. Sen. Obie Patterson (D-Prince George’s), who punted last year with his non-vote, has not disclosed his intentions. “I know what I’m going to do. I just don’t want to reveal it at this point. . . . I need to keep it sacred,” he told Maryland Matters reporter Bruce DePuyt last month.

Mr. Patterson and other members of the General Assembly should not be given a pass on this issue. There’s no question medical assistance is a fraught issue, but the merits of this bill — which polls have shown is supported by most Marylanders — deserve discussion and a decision. That is what leadership is about. We urge Mr. Smith and Mr. Ferguson to make a priority of the Maryland End-of-Life Option Act, and we urge Mr. Hogan to follow through on his pledge to examine and take a stand on the bill. They may think they can wait another year. But Marylanders such as 38-year-old Debra Cirasole, suffering from terminal brain cancer and wanting the choice to die in comfort rather than in pain, can’t.

Read more:

Read a letter responding to this editorial: Maryland should reject assisted suicide

The Post’s View: Other states have pioneered death with dignity. Maryland should follow suit.

Ryan T. Anderson: Maryland’s end-of-life bill is about one thing: Killing

G. Kevin Donovan: D.C.’s assisted suicide law leaves much to the imagination

Letters to the Editor: Two views on Maryland’s end-of-life legislation

Letters to the Editor: The right to choose death is our ultimate right in life