A Senate committee on Friday passed legislation that will allow doctors in Maryland to prescribe a lethal dose of medicine to terminally ill patients who want to end their lives, clearing a hurdle for the bill to advance to the Senate floor next week.
The committee made significant changes to the bill, aimed at preventing possible coercion and removing immunity from doctors who participate in the end-of-life option. But the bill’s supporters say the amendments go too far and hinted at the possibility of withdrawing support for the measure if it remains in its current form.
Kim Callinan, the chief executive of Compassion & Choices, which has led efforts across the country to pass similar legislation, said the Senate version of the bill “does a disservice when the experience that [terminally ill patients] have is roadblocks.”
The House version of the bill, which passed after an emotional debate earlier this month, is modeled after Oregon’s law and would apply to terminally ill people whose doctors say they have less than six months to live. A patient would have to make three requests, both oral and written, to end his or her life, with waiting periods and the ability to rescind the request at any time.
Opponents of the bill say the state is going down a slippery slope, one that could lead to poor and vulnerable patients being pressured into premature death.
Joseph Marine, an associate professor at the School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide coalition, said he considers the bill “fatally flawed.”
“This bill strikes at the heart of the medical principle that we do not cause the death of a patient,” he said.
Orthodox Jewish leaders have strongly opposed the bill.
In a letter released after the bill passed the House of Delegates, the Vaad HaRabbanim of Baltimore said, “our anchors – individually and collectively – are the timeless and eternal values that have served as the foundation of our society. It is thus deeply disconcerting and upsetting to see these values challenged and changed by the latest and best-funded movements for social change.
“As Jews and Americans, we live with a profound value for human life. Our tradition teaches us to put aside virtually any other value when a human life – of any quality or potential duration – may be at stake. And while under certain circumstances we may choose not to act aggressively to prolong a life of suffering, we have always considered the active termination of life to be absolutely off limits.”