For the fourth the fifth time in five years, bills have been introduced in the Maryland General Assembly that would allow doctors in the state to prescribe lethal medications to terminally ill patients who wish to end their lives.

State lawmakers will consider companion House and Senate Bills HB399 and SB311, titled the “Richard E. Israel and Roger ‘Pip’ Moyer End-of-Life Option Act.” They would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal cocktail of medications to terminally ill patients who want to kill themselves. They would also protect from prosecution those physicians who prescribed the deadly medications.

The bills were introduced last week and have the backing of the Oregon-based Compassion and Choices, a nationwide group advocating “death with dignity” laws across the country. Hearings on the bills have been scheduled for Friday, Feb. 15 at 1 p.m. in the House and Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 1:30 p.m. in the Senate. 

“Assisted-suicide threatens Maryland’s most vulnerable, putting those with disabilities, the elderly, our veterans, and those battling prescription drug addiction at grave risk,” Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC), said in a statement. “As Catholics we stand firm with our partners across the state to strongly oppose this legislation.”

The MCC is the public advocacy arm of the three dioceses that comprise the sate of Maryland – the Archdiocese of Washington, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and the Diocese of Wilmington. It advocates for the Church’s positions before the Maryland General Assembly and other civil officials.

The Maryland Catholic Conference has joined with a broad-based coalition of other religious groups, advocates for the disabled, and doctors and other health professionals to oppose physician-assisted suicide in the state.

The coalition – Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide (MAPAS) – has been on the forefront of fighting assisted-suicide legislation introduced in prior years.

Similar measures were introduced in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions. In each of those years, physician-assisted suicide bills were introduced and committee hearings were held, but the bills were withdrawn before they could be voted down by the full body of lawmakers.

Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide, in a statement, outlined its opposition to the measure: “There are no safeguards that can truly protect against the coercion and abuse of vulnerable populations. There is no legislative solution to the fact that doctors cannot accurately predict a six-month terminal diagnosis. There is no way to cover up in legislation that patients in states where this is legal are requesting the lethal drugs because they feel like they are a burden on their family, not because they are in pain.”

“The bill sponsors have not made any changes to the substance of the bill that addresses any of the serious concerns that have been raised by our coalition and allies over the four-plus years we have fought this proposal. All of the major issues remain,” the MAPAS statement said. “The physician assisted suicide bill filed this year in Maryland is just as flawed as it has always been.”

The Maryland Catholic Conference, in opposing prior “death with dignity” attempts, stressed that in addition to not protecting the sanctity of life until natural death, other fundamental flaws include:

• No option of evaluating whether a person requesting to die is suffering from depression;

• No requirement that any medical professional be present when the patient takes his or her life;

• No monitoring to determine whether a patient might be pressured to end his or her life;

• No contingency should a patient’s suicide attempt is unsuccessful; and

• No way to determine what happens to the lethal medication if the patient eventually decides not to take it.

If the assisted-suicide bills are approved, they would repeal a 1999 Maryland law that made physician-assisted suicide illegal in the state.  That year, many states enacted similar legislation in the wake of the second-degree murder conviction of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, whose outspoken advocacy of physician-assisted suicide earned him the nickname, “Dr. Death.”

“Physician assisted suicide is a dangerous proposition for Maryland and there is widespread concern among the medical community at large on the harmful implications of legalizing this unethical practice,” Dr. Joseph Marine, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in an MAPAS statement. “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.”

In 2016, Washington, D.C., passed an assisted-suicide law that enables doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients who have been deemed mentally competent and who have received a terminal diagnosis of six months or less.

On Jan. 1 of this year, Hawaii’s physician-assisted suicide law that was passed in 2018 went into effect. In addition to the District and Hawaii, other states allowing doctors to help the terminally ill to kill themselves are Vermont, Oregon, Washington State, Montana, California and Colorado. In recent years, physician-assisted suicide laws have been introduced and have failed in 29 other states.

Briemann urged pro-life Marylanders and others who oppose “this predatory practice” to join the MAPAS coalition and “stay up-to-date on action on this bill.”

(For more information or to join the effort to defeat HB399 and SB311, visit www.stopassistedsuicidemd.org)