Assisted Suicide Gains Momentum

Maryland House passes assisted suicide legalization

A doctor holds up a drug testing kit which is used as part of assisted suicides
A doctor holds up a drug testing kit which is used as part of assisted suicides / Getty Images
March 8, 2019

The Democrat-controlled Maryland House of Delegates moved forward legislation to legalize assisted suicide.

On Thursday, Democrats passed legislation that would allow physicians to prescribe lethal medication to patients who have received terminal diagnoses. The bill passed by a 74-66 margin, narrowly eclipsing the 71 votes needed. The bill had failed in three previous sessions, but received a boost when the state doctor's lobby lifted its longstanding opposition to assisted suicide and opted for a neutral stance.

Critics of assisted suicide slammed the bill as a threat to palliative and hospice care, which focuses on keeping those in pain comfortable until their natural death. Matt Valliere, executive director of the Patients Rights Action Fund, said the advance of assisted suicide could also close the door to vulnerable patients receiving life-saving care as insurance companies opt for the cheaper option of suicide pills. He called the bill "misguided," adding that "those already at a disadvantage in our healthcare system will see their options disappear."

"The safety of many in Maryland is in jeopardy with the passing of this assisted suicide bill in the House of Delegates," he said in an email. "People with serious illness, people living with disabilities, people of advanced age and the economically disadvantaged are all groups whose equal access to real healthcare will be threatened as a result of this dangerous public policy."

Proponents of assisted suicide, who prefer the term medical aid in dying, said its passage represents a step toward progress by giving those with terminal diagnoses control over their deaths. Compassion & Choices has spearheaded the effort to pass assisted suicide across the country. It has argued that the measures will not reduce options, but instead give patients more autonomy in how much pain they are willing to endure in their final days. The group's CEO, Kim Callinan, is a longtime Maryland resident. She praised the House, especially delegates who have crossed over to supporting the measure in 2019 and called for the Senate to quickly take up the legislation.

"We urge Maryland senators to hear the pleas from their colleagues and constituents and pass this bill now because terminally ill Marylanders need compassionate end of life care now," she said in a release.

Assisted suicide is legal in seven states and the District of Columbia after Hawaii legalized the practice in 2018. Similar bills have been taken up and rejected in a variety of states ranging from deep blue Massachusetts to more conservative locales, such as Oklahoma and Utah. Legislation is gaining momentum in 2019. The New Jersey Senate removed a key road block to assisted suicide there after its Democratic Senate President replaced party members who had previously opposed the legislation with supporters during a key committee vote. The Maryland House vote came the same day Democrats introduced a legalization bill in Minnesota. Pro-life activists are sounding the alarm about the potential spread.

"Assisted suicide is dangerous and unnecessary," Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Executive Director Scott Fischbach said in a statement. "This bill would pose real risks to Minnesotans. All patients deserve support and care and protection, not suicide."

The Maryland bill will now move to the state Senate where Democrats enjoy a 32 to 15 super majority. Moderate Republican governor Larry Hogan has yet to take a position on the bill.