Annapolis, Md., Mar 8, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- The lower house of the Maryland legislature passed a bill Thursday to legalize assisted suicide, in the face of critics’ concerns about a lack of safeguards and economic discrimination.
The House of Delegates approved the End-of-Life Options Act by a 74-66 vote March 7.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore has said the bill would “further undermine the dignity of human life.”
“Physician-assisted suicide is not a partisan issue, and those who are concerned about the health disparity and economic discrimination issues raised by the bill stand in strong opposition to its passage,” said Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
“Among those in opposition were a majority of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus and many members of Democratic House leadership, and we applaud their courage to stand up to the out-of-state interests pushing this predatory agenda.”
“We call on the members of the Maryland Senate and Governor Hogan to act swiftly to decry the action of their colleagues in the House and stop this dangerously flawed bill from advancing.”
Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide, a coalition opposed to the bill, expressed hope that the Senate would recognize “that the legislation simply does not address any of the dangers that physician assisted suicide poses to Maryland.”
“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. There is no way to address the fact that patients in states where this practice is legal are requesting the lethal drugs because they feel like burdens on their families, not because they are in pain … Alongside these dangers, this practice distorts medical ethics and devalues existing end-of-life care.”
This is the fourth attempt in five years to legalize assisted suicide in the state. The move is being supported by the Compassion and Choices, an Oregon-based group that advocates for assisted suicide, and the bill is based on Oregon’s assisted suicide law.
Similar bills were introduced in 2015, 2016, and 2017, but were withdrawn before they could be voted down.
If passed, the bill would permit doctors to prescribe lethal medications to adult patients with a terminal illness and six months left to live. The bill would overturn a 1999 Maryland law that banned assisted suicide, and it would protect from prosecution doctors who prescribe the drugs. It would require that a patient make two oral and one written request to a physician, waiting two to 15 days between requests.
Physicians who decline to provide the lethal medication would be required to refer the patient to another doctor.
The bills have also been opposed by groups such as the Maryland Psychiatric Society and Baltimore City Medical Society.
The MCC found that, under the bill, no assessment screens for depression nor is there a supervisor to ensure a patient is not pressured into the process. The bill also does not require a medical professional to be present during the suicide, or a contingency if the attempt is unsuccessful.
Delegate Nic Kipke noted that “if people cannot afford treatments they need for their care, and if people are making choices based on economic factors that is not consistent with choice or safety from coercion,” WAMU reported.
The Senate version of the bill has at least 19 sponsors in the 47-member body.
Governor Larry Hogan, a Catholic and a Republican, has not indicated whether he would sign the bill. The Baltimore Sun reported that Hogan has said the bill is “one that I really wrestle with from a personal basis.”
Assisted suicide is legal by law in the District of Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont, Hawaii, and Colorado; and in Montana through a state supreme court ruling.
According to MAPAS, Dr. Joseph Marine, an associate professor of medicine at John Hopkins, said this kind of end-of-life care is dangerous to Maryland, noting other states have already witnessed its ugly effects.
“We are already seeing reports of insurance companies in some states declining to cover the cost of life-extending treatments, and instead paying for these drug overdoses that end a patient’s life.”
During debate on the bill, Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk said that “we have 40 years of documented evidence that this is not a problem and there has never been abuse.”
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