End-of-Life Option bill sparks emotional debate about personal rights, suicide


Source: Maryland Reporter

By Alessia Grunberger

In an emotionally charged, eight-hour hearing Friday, more than 30 advocates made heartfelt pleas to lawmakers in an effort to make Maryland the sixth state to allow terminally ill patients to take their own lives with the assistance of lethal drugs.

Last year was the first time state lawmakers introduced “death with dignity” legislation. However, the bill did not make it out of committee.

Back for round two, bill sponsor Del. Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, has urged her colleagues to reconsider and pass HB 404. She, as well as other proponents, believe that a terminally ill individual has the right to determine his or her own fate.

“Having the medication means knowing you can skip the very worst, the very last part of dying if you choose,” said Kim Callinan, the chief program officer at Compassion and Choices, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding and raising awareness for end-of-life care.

But religious groups, medical doctors, several disability rights advocacy groups and other opponents raised concerns about the implications of condoning physician-assisted suicide, how it would work in practice and whether someone could miraculously survive if given the chance.

“What we are asking for is merely an option,” Callinan added. “It is the option for a terminally ill adult with no hope of a cure to voluntarily request a prescription for medication from their doctor that they can self-administer so they can die peacefully in their sleep. This option is known as medical aid in dying.”

However, if this bill becomes a law, medical aid in dying would only be an option for those who would qualify.

Many steps to qualify

In order to qualify, an adult with a terminal illness must file a request on three separate occasions, once in writing and twice verbally. During this process, the individual seeking physician-assisted suicide must consult two different doctors.

By the end of this multi-step process, the individual’s attending physician must confirm that the patient possesses the mental capacity to make medical decisions, is a Maryland resident, has six months or less to live as well as the physical ability to self-administer the life-ending medications.

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