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Maryland House approves medical aid in dying bill

Maryland House of Delegates debates end-of-life bill on Thursday, March 7, 2019 in Annapolis, Maryland. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland House of Delegates has approved a measure to allow the terminally ill to end their lives with a doctor’s help.

The House voted 74-66 for the bill Thursday. It now goes to the Senate.

The measure would allow adults to obtain a prescription for life-ending drugs, if a doctor finds they have six months or less to live. The physician must certify that the person has the capacity to make the decision, and the prescription can only be self-administered.

Supporters in Maryland have tried several times in recent years to pass the bill, but it has stalled in committee until now.

Maryland Del. Erik Leudtke, D-Montgomery County, explained his family includes those who have suffered mental illness and attempted suicide. He said he has a “hatred of suicide,” but when his mother was diagnosed with late-stage esophageal cancer, she suffered extraordinary pain.

A hush came over the floor as Leudtke struggled to maintain his composure at times, his voice breaking. He said the time came when she decided not to accept further treatment.

“My mother was the strongest person I’ve ever known … she raised two kids by herself through very difficult circumstances,” Leudtke said.

Leudtke said despite the best efforts of doctors to control her pain, it became unmanageable.

When the debate came to the House, Leudtke said, “I began to ask myself what right I had — as a government official and even as her son — to dictate to her how her life should end. What right do any one of us have to determine that for any individual?”

Leudtke added, “This bill, in my opinion, is not the government putting its finger on the scales — it’s the government taking its finger off the scales and restoring to people, like my mother, the ability to make a decision for themselves … a final decision for themselves.”

With that, Leudtke said he’d be casting a green vote.

Del. Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore City, voted against the bill, saying if someone were to opt for it, “You don’t get a do-over. I cannot and will not vote for this bill. Because I don’t know, and my spiritual belief tells me we don’t know what tomorrow holds.”

If the bill passes, Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith, D-Prince George’s County, said, “We start ourselves down what many do not like to hear, but what is an absolute and definitive slippery slope.”

She worried about promoting what she called “a duty to die.”

“There is no doubt, the vulnerable, elderly and disabled will get the clear message we are sending: that dying is a solution like any other and perhaps preferable to straining the family or societal and financial resources,” Valentino-Smith said.

State Sen. Ron Young, who has supported aid-in-dying bills in the past, said he’s not sure what the bill’s chances are in the Maryland Senate. The first hurdle will be clearing a Senate committee.

“I don’t have a feel for the committee this year — I think it’s got a better chance than it had in the past,” Young said.

He feels strongly that the option of asking a doctor to prescribe a fatal dose of drugs is something that Maryland residents should have. “I don’t want to tell you what to do, and I’d like to have my own options. I don’t know if I would do it, but I know I would like to have the option,” Young said.

Similar bills have failed in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Young said in 2017 he believed he had the votes in the Senate chamber, but didn’t have the votes on the committee hearing the bill.

The Maryland Catholic Conference is working to defeat the bill it said would harm vulnerable populations, including people with disabilities and the elderly.

Laws allowing medical aid in dying are legal in seven states, including California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, as well as D.C.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report from Annapolis, Maryland. 

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