By Dave Andrusko
In spite of some second thoughts by several Maryland state Senators, debate continued in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on a physician-assisted suicide bill. Debate will continue on Wednesday on the so-called the “End of Life Options Act” with a final vote expected as early as Thursday.
The End of Life Options Act already passed the House of Delegates earlier this month by a vote of 74-66.
This is the fourth time in as many years that the Maryland Legislature has debated physician-assisted suicide.
Opponents must call their state Senator to ask them to vote “no” on Senate Bill 311.They should also call and email Senate President Mike Miller to voice their opposition. Miller has said he will vote against but thinks they have the votes to pass it regardless.
You can look up and then contact your state Senator by going to www.mdrtl.org/takeaction.html.
Over 5,000 e-mails have already been sent, but more are needed.
Maryland Right to Life expressed its strong opposition to Senate Bill 311 in a statement from Laura Bogley-Knickman, J.D., Director of Legislation, for National Right to Life’s state affiliate.
“Our opposition to doctor-prescribed suicide stems from numerous practical problems with the alleged safeguards and with challenges such a policy brings to bear on access to wanted healthcare,” she explained. “This is an extremely emotional issue for many people and our approach therefore, while respecting differing views, is to examine the wisdom of the proposed policy based on the empirical data available to us.” She then outlined five fallacies which make the proposed legislation extremely dangerous.
During debate, state Senators Edward Reilly, Michael Hough, Justin Ready, and Robert Cassilly moved to remand the bill back to committee to deal with ongoing concerns. However, the motion to remand failed and the bill went to full debate.
Eight amendments were added to Senate Bill 311.
As amended, the End of Life Options Act” is to apply to patients age 21 years or older (originally 18 years) who must have an “irreversible” condition that affects their quality of life and that “within a reasonable degree of medical certainty” will result in death within six months. (The original language was “reasonable medical judgment” that the individual is likely to die within six months.)
There must also be a medical evaluation and the request must be made three times.
As bioethicist Wesley J. Smith noted, that was enough to cause the primary engine behind the assisted suicide movement, Compassion and Choices, to withdraw its support.
Members of the Senate talked about how this bill is unnecessary because there are other ways to deal with pain. They pointed out some of this has already been addressed in legislation, including Advance Directives and protecting doctors from liability for overdoses from pain medications, such as morphine, if they can establish that it was not their intent to inflict death but only to manage pain.
Still others raised the damage physician-assisted suicide will cause to the doctor-patient relationship and the constant problem of ensuring that qualified medical professionals determine a patient’s capacity to ask for assisted suicide.
Assuming the bill passes the Senate, since its version will be different than passed in the House, the two chambers’ bills will then be sent to a conference committee to resolve the differences. Should the final bill pass both houses, opponents will call on Gov. Larry Hogan to veto the bill.