Maryland Senate Defeats Bill to Legalize Assisted Suicide

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 27, 2019   |   2:36PM   |   Annapolis, MD

After very intense lobbying by pro-life advocates and the disability rights community, the Maryland state senate has defeated a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide.

Had Maryland voted in favor of the legislation, it would have become the 7th state to legalize assisted suicide. Six states (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont) and Washington D.C. permit the dangerous practice of allowing physicians to write lethal prescriptions to certain groups of persons to kill themselves.

The state Senate defeated the bill on a 23-23 tie vote — the third time it has died in the Maryland legislature — and the Baltimore Sun indicates the bill’s sponsor hopes to use the close vote as a springboard for bringing it back next year after getting the House to pass it for the first time this year.

Sen. Will Smith, the bill’s sponsor, said he hoped senators will build on this year’s work on the bill as they debate the measure in future years.

The measure faced more scrutiny in the Senate, where a committee added further requirements for patients and doctors. The bill was changed so much that some advocates for the bill worried that few patients would have been able to request medication from doctors.

Wednesday’s vote in the state Senate was on a rare roll call vote on second reading. Customarily, a second reading vote is a voice vote without a record made of who is voting which way.

The vote was 23-23, one vote shy of the 24 votes needed in the 47-member Senate to advance the bill to a final vote.

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Sheryl Grossman, a Community Living Advocate for the National Organizing Project and the National Council on Independent Living said the changes made in the Senate did not fix the major problems with the bill — and only added to them.

“What has been marketed as a bill increasing choice of those with terminal illness (who almost always meet the federal definition of disability) in actuality reinforces stereotypes and systemic ableism that will do irreparable harm to disabled constituents and Marylanders as a whole,” she said. “I understand that several changes were made to the bill that some legislators believe will help protect disabled people from the harms of this bill, but they will not.”

Oregon was the first state to legalize assisted suicide and the number of patients have been killed since then continues to increase.

In Oregon, there were 168 reported assisted suicide deaths in 2018, up from 158 in 2017. As 249 lethal prescriptions were obtained, and the “ingestion status” is not always known, the actual number of deaths may be higher.

The relief of unbearable suffering is the most common argument put forward for euthanasia and assisted suicide, but the data from Oregon shows that it is not the primary reason people chose to end their lives. The three most frequently reported end-of-life concerns were loss of autonomy (91.7%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (90.5%), and loss of dignity (66.7%). Inadequate pain control was mentioned by only 31.2%.

In fact, the data from Oregon adds to the concerning evidence that assisted suicide deaths are not the peaceful end promised by advocates, but slow and painful. The report says that the time of death after taking lethal drugs ranged from 9 minutes to 14 hours. When dying from DCMP2 (a lethal drug cocktail that was invented when the preferred alternatives became too expensive), death took an average of 2 hours, with the longest time taking 21 hours.