ANNAPOLIS — Del. Eric Luedtke choked up as he talked about the last days of his mother’s life with terminal cancer, which effectively changed his views of a bill for aid-in-dying reform.
“What right do I have as a government official, even as her son, to dictate to her how her life should end? What right do any of us have to determine that for another individual?” the Montgomery County Democrat said Thursday, March 7 to his colleagues in the House chamber. “So this bill, in my opinion, is not putting its finger on the scales. It’s the government taking its finger off the scales and restoring to people like my mother to make a final decision for themselves.”
Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City) said her sister had lost the will to live, but found strength after repairing a strained relationship with her son.
“You don’t get a do-over. We don’t know what tomorrow holds,” Glenn said. “It is hard to see your loved ones suffer. It is really hard, but should we ever put them in a situation to decide to end their lives? I don’t think so.”
Luedtke and Glenn shared two of more than a dozen personal reflections and heartfelt debate before the House of Delegates voted in favor of legislation that would allow to physicians to administer lethal doses of medicine to terminally ill patients.
The legislation, which has been in the works for four years and needed 71 votes for approval, passed 74-66. It now heads to the Senate.
Sen. William Smith (D-Montgomery County) has a similar bill under review by the chamber’s Judicial Proceedings Committee that could complement the House form. It’s possible the full Senate could discuss the legislation later this week.
“This is optional for people dying already,” said Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-District of 21) of College Park, who helped craft the bill. “It is not mandated for everyone. It’s knowing that you can have [the option] and can die in a compassionate way. It’s your choice.”
Peña-Melnyk said the bill outlines “a lot of safeguards” and is modeled after legislation in Oregon that’s been in effect for more than 20 years.
For instance, a person must make must three requests, both oral and written, to a primary doctor and discuss the decision alone. In addition, a consulting physician would examine and review a patient’s records to determine if a lethal prescription would be warranted.
The primary doctor can also make a referral to a mental health professional to receive another diagnosis. A terminally ill patient would be one a doctor assesses who has less than six months to live.
Although lawmakers agreed with the intent of the bill, formally named the End-of-Life Option Act, some still couldn’t approve it.
Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-District 23A) of Bowie, who was a nurse 20 years ago, said it goes against ethical guidelines among health care professionals.
“Although there are these serious circumstances … ultimately no good can come from this,” she said. “We cannot control the future and the risks are too great. State government should never decide there are parameters upon which government is allowing and setting up a process for the extinguishing of life.”
Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide, a nonprofit group composed of disability and patient advocates, members of the medical community and religious organizations, agreed.
“We hope the Senate recognizes that the legislation simply does not address any of the dangers that physician assisted suicide poses to Maryland,” the group said in a statement. “As coalition members have said all along, there are no meaningful safeguards in this legislation to protect against the coercion and abuse of seniors, the disabled, and other vulnerable populations. This practice distorts medical ethics and devalues existing end-of-life care.”
Del. Terri Hill, a practicing physician and a Catholic, said the bill doesn’t impose societal, religious or governmental beliefs on an individual.
“When you can allay shame and guilt for someone who is acting in a way that relates to their own life and no one else’s and their belief in God and personal relationship with God, than that’s compassion,” said Hill, a Democrat who represents portions of Baltimore and Howard counties. “You don’t have to support that choice for yourself or another else to support this bill. You simply have to accept that this is the kind of decision that an individual should be free to make for themselves.”
Gov. Larry Hogan hasn’t indicated whether he would sign the legislation into law.
“This is a very serious issue and the governor will give this legislation careful consideration should it reach his desk,” said Hogan spokeswoman Shareese Churchill.