The Maryland House on Thursday passed a measure that would give terminally ill patients six months from death the option to end their lives by taking prescribed lethal medication.
House Bill 399, or the End-of-Life Option Act, received 74 votes for and 66 against in an impassioned chamber session.
Individuals are required to consent three times to death. “Lethal injection, mercy killing or euthanasia,” would not be legal under the legislation, according to the bill’s analysis. There would be criminal penalties for people who coerce others into ending their lives.
The debate began with some tension, but soon cooled off, as personal anecdotes of experiences with death or near-death brought tears to the eyes of many members of the chamber.
Democratic and Republican delegates opposed the bill, saying they had religious and moral objections, and detailing how important each day alive was to many of their relatives who died from terminal illnesses.
“Because I am a believer,” God should be answered to, not nurses or doctors, Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s) said. “Give my Lord the opportunity of a miracle.”
“Doctors take an oath, the Hippocratic oath, to do no harm,” Del. Haven Shoemaker (R-Carroll) told Capital News Service.
“We’re encouraging [physicians] to contravene that oath,” Shoemaker said.
“Think about vulnerable populations” who could be taken advantage of by this legislation, said House Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke (R-Anne Arundel). “Less than 5 percent of the poor receive hospice care at the end of life.”
If many people begin ending their lives prematurely, “we wouldn't look for a cure,” to their diseases, said Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore, Harford).
Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore) spoke of her sister who died of a terminal illness. She would not have made peace with her only son if she had ended her life early, Glenn said. “We don't know what tomorrow will hold.”
Democratic supporters argued that individuals deserve the right and option to choose when they die.
Del. Shane Pendergrass (D-Howard) lead sponsor of the legislation, told the stories of two people who fought breast and brain cancer.
Knowing the medication to end your life is there gives comfort and control to an individual who is suffering, Pendergrass said.
Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery) said he had three family members attempt suicide, and spoke of his mother who tried to end her life from the pain of her cancer.
“Despite my personal hatred for suicide, I began to ask myself what right I had as a government official, and even as her son, to dictate to her how her life should end,” Luedtke said.
Individuals can already choose to not be resuscitated and be taken off a feeding tube, Del. Elizabeth Proctor (D-Charles, Prince George's) said. The bill just gives people at the end of life another option, she said.
Del. Sandy Bartlett (D-Anne Arundel) told her story of anguish following mastectomies for breast cancer.
Deciding to end one's life is up to “her, and her choice only,” she said, speaking of herself.
The bill “does not impose beliefs on anyone,” said Del. Terri Hill (D-Baltimore, Howard), a physician. “I expect that the positions we've taken have been thoughtful and spiritually guided.”
The chamber was silent following the final vote.
Now that the legislation has passed the House, an identical bill must pass the Senate, and then must not be vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to become law.
“I’m going to give a lot of heartfelt and thoughtful consideration,” to the act, Hogan said in February.
California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized physician-assisted suicide, and Montana has no law prohibiting it.
Seventy-two percent of Americans would support ending a terminally ill patient's life, according to a 2018 Gallup poll.
The legislation, originally titled the “Richard E. Israel and Roger ‘Pip” Moyer Death with Dignity Act,” was first presented to the General Assembly in 2015. Israel and Moyer were former members of Annapolis government, and both died in 2015 from Parkinson’s disease.
Pendergrass said after years of supporting the bill, it is “just a remarkable moment” to see the vote of passage for this legislation. She attributed the bills’ success to testimony she heard and has repeated many times: “Everyone is one bad death away from supporting this bill.”