The “Richard E. Israel and Roger ‘Pip’ Moyer End-of-Life Option Act” failed to advance out of the Maryland State Senate after a tie 23-23 vote on March 27. This marks the defeat of the bill that would have made it legal for adults deemed mentally capable and who have a prognosis of six months or less to receive a prescription for a lethal dose of drugs to end their life.
The bill had been introduced three times previously, but this year was the first time it received a vote in the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate. Each year it has been introduced, the Maryland Catholic Conference has raised strong opposition to the bill. This year in their written testimony against the bill, they wrote, “we wish to convey our deep dismay about the message this legislation sends to those who might feel that their illness and the care they require is nothing more than a burden to their families and the rest of society.”
“At the heart of our ministry to the sick, the disabled, the elderly, and those without access to adequate medical care is recognition of the Gospel call to embrace the lives of those most in need of our love, care, and compassion,” they wrote. “There is no life that we consider not worth living, no person who does not deserve to be valued.”
This year, the bill was passed by the Maryland House of Delegates on March 7 and sent to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which added 20 amendments designed to make it safer before sending it to the full Senate floor for a vote.
Neither proponents nor opponents of the bill were entirely happy with the amendments. Advocates of the bill, such as the group Compassion & Choices, said the amendments to the bill presented too many roadblocks for patients, while opponents of the bill said it remained dangerous.
“Countless Marylanders are safer today because legislators rejected a bill to legalize assisted suicide,” wrote Matt Valliere, the executive director of the Patients Rights Action Fund. “All bills that would legalize assisted suicide make for dangerous public policy, especially for persons living with disabilities, the terminally ill, people of advanced age, and those who are at an economic disadvantage.”
After the bill’s defeat, Jenn Briemann, the executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said the conference’s main reaction is “one of gratitude.”
“Our general reaction is one of gratitude to all of the Catholics from across the state who repeatedly weighed in to their legislators about the bill,” she said. “Our gratitude is also extended to our coalition partners from numerous disability rights organizations, the many physicians and mental health providers, and leaders of other faith organizations who weighed in against the bill.”
Likewise, Therese Hessler, an associate director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said, "We are thankful to all of those that worked towards preventing this bill from passing and grateful to all the legislators that stood in opposition. The legalization of physician assisted suicide would have jeopardized the life and safety of Maryland's most vulnerable citizens.”
Briemann noted that the Maryland Senate vote crossed party lines, with people “across demographic and geographic lines” opposing the bill.
“We had people from the Eastern Shore to Montgomery County opposing the bill, and that is because at the end of the day, the bill is bad policy,” she said. “It is not a partisan issue. It is a fatally flawed bill, (and) we appreciate the Maryland Senate and its members for recognizing it.”
In a statement, the Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide coalition said it “is grateful that physician assisted suicide has been halted in the General Assembly with today’s Senate vote, once again protecting Marylanders from the risk of this policy’s significant unintended consequences.
The coalition's statement added, “As we have said in every phase of this debate, this is a fundamentally flawed proposal. From creating risks to public safety, to dissuading people from availing themselves of existing end-of-life health care, to exacerbating health care disparities, to distorting medical ethics, this well-intentioned idea is a grave mistake that should be avoided at all costs. We greatly appreciate the hard work of the thousands of people who engaged with the General Assembly and raised these concerns.”