Maryland Rejects Assisted Suicide

Senate vote stalls bill allowing physician assisted suicide

The Maryland State Capitol Building
The Maryland State Capitol Building / Getty Images

Assisted suicide is dead in the water in Maryland after the state Senate failed to advance a legalization bill.

On Wednesday, the Senate stalemated on legislation that would have allowed doctors to provide lethal prescriptions to patients diagnosed as terminally ill. The vote came two weeks after the Maryland House of Delegates approved the measure in a 74-66 vote after years of rejecting similar bills.

Assisted suicide opponents celebrated the outcome. Matt Valliere, executive director of the Patients' Rights Action Fund, said that the Democrat-controlled Senate was correct to vote down the measure, which had failed in several previous votes. He said legalized assisted suicide would endanger vulnerable residents, adding that "countless Marylanders are safer today because legislators rejected" the bill.

"All bills that would legalize assisted suicide make for dangerous public policy, especially for persons living with disabilities, the terminally ill, people of advanced age, and those who are at an economic disadvantage," Valliere said in an email. "They are the most likely to suffer because of mistakes, coercion, and abuse—as we have seen happen in places that do allow assisted suicide."

The 23-23 Senate vote prevented the bill from advancing to Republican governor Larry Hogan's desk. Hogan has not yet indicated whether he approved of the practice.

Supporters of assisted suicide lamented the vote, but remain optimistic about the future of legalization in the state after winning over previous no votes in both chambers. Compassion & Choices has lobbied for assisted suicide in states across the country, helping to not only win over skeptical lawmakers, but to implement the practice once it becomes law. The group's CEO Kim Callinan noted in a release that it had "advanced the bill farther than ever before, adding that it was "only a matter of time" before the heavily Democratic state allows residents to end their own lives with the help of doctors.

"This temporary setback in Maryland is deeply disappointing to our brave, seriously ill advocates," Callinan said in a statement. "But we are confident that it is just a matter of time before a version of this legislation similar to the House-passed bill, which is based on proven laws in eight other jurisdictions, becomes law."

Assisted suicide is the law of the land in seven states and the District of Columbia and has been gaining momentum in other states in recent years. Maryland's vote came just days after New Jersey passed a legalization bill, which Democratic governor Phil Murphy has pledged to sign, to become the eighth state to allow assisted suicide. The institution of assisted suicide came despite the New Jersey legislature's numerous rejections of similar bills over the past seven years.

Opponents in the medical community agree with Compassion & Choices' confidence that Maryland lawmakers could eventually legalize the practice. Dr. T. Brian Callister, incoming governor of the Nevada chapter of the American College of Physicians, has testified against assisted suicide in statehouses across the country. His opposition is rooted in dealing with his Oregon-based patients' insurance companies that have declined to pay for life-saving treatment and encouraged patients to instead choose suicide via medication. He sees assisted suicide as a cheap alternative to palliative care and hospice and an attempt to "quash [patients'] right to medical care." Opening the door to the practice would serve as a virtual "mandate" on patients. The cheaper option of suicide bills, Callister said, is implicitly coercive.

"Maryland citizens can breathe a sigh of relief, at least for the time being, that their rights to access life-saving and life-sustaining treatments will not be trampled on by those wishing to extend their ‘right to die' as a mandate on others," Callister told the Washington Free Beacon. "This is a victory for senior citizens, the chronically ill, the disabled, and the terminally ill as we have a reprieve from the coercion being thrust upon them."