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MD General Assembly Deliberating “Death With Dignity” Bill

For the second year in a row, the Maryland General Assembly is deliberating on passing a “Death With Dignity” bill. This bill would allow terminally ill patients to obtain prescriptions for lethal doses of medication from their physicians.

California, Vermont, Oregon, and Washington have adopted similar legislation. Montana and New Mexico courts have allowed assisted suicide in specific cases, though legislation has not been passed.

Maryland’s End of Life Options Act is modeled off of Oregon’s 1997 legislation. The bill is co-sponsored by Delegates Shane Pendergrass (D) and Chris West (R).

Proponents of the legislation argue that the bill provides patients with the choice of a dignified and painless death. By having the option of physician-assisted suicide, patients would hopefully be given a sense of control over their life – a sense of control that they very likely did not have previously due to their condition. In addition, they argue that there are provisions to help prevent patients from being coerced into choosing suicide, and that there are no records indicating that a patient has been coerced into choosing suicide in the states that have passed similar legislation.

Compassion & Choices, a non-profit organization focusing on end-of-life choice and care, is one of the main proponents of the End of Life Options Act.

Samantha Crane, the legal director and director of public policy for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, argues, however, that the legislation “reinforce[es] the perception that life with a disability or progressive disease is not worth living” and that “this perception not only can lead to preventable deaths by suicide, but it can create significant or even fatal barriers to accessing health care and needed services.” She argues, instead, that “the answer…, is to make sure that people with illness-related disabilities are receiving the supports they need in order to live — not to create a new fast track toward death.”

The Maryland Catholic Conference and disability rights advocates have echoed Crane’s dissenting statements.

If passed, a patient would be required to meet with their doctor twice to discuss their diagnosis, including one private meeting without family or friends. In order for the doctor to write a prescription, the patient must be deemed to have less than six months to live, be able to take the medication without assistance, and be of sound mind. The patient is responsible for filling the prescription and ingesting the fatal overdose.

The bill includes provisions to protect doctors who prescribe lethal doses of medication.

A similar bill was put forth last year, but it did not pass through the committee. Lawmakers made changes to the bill before putting it forth this year, including provisions “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,” according to the Washington Post.

Debate on the End of Life Options Act is slated to commence on March 6, 2016.

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