By William J. Ford
ANNAPOLIS — After more than an hour of emotional testimonies and debate, the House of Delegates voted Thursday in favor of legislation that would grant an option for terminally ill patients in Maryland to prescribe lethal doses of medicine.
The legislation, which has been in the works for four years and needed 71 votes for approval, passed 74-66. It now heads to the Senate.
“This is optional for people dying already,” said Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-District of 21) of College Park, who helped craft the bill. “It is not mandated for everyone. It’s knowing that you can have [the option] and can die in a compassionate way. It’s your choice.”
Peña-Melnyk said the bill outlines “a lot of safeguards” and modeled after legislation in Oregon that’s been in effect for more than 20 years.
For instance, a person must make must three requests, both oral and written, to a primary doctor and discuss the decision alone. In addition, a consulting physician would examine and review a patient’s records to determine if a lethal prescription would be warranted.
The primary doctor can also make a referral to a mental health professional to receive another diagnosis. A terminally ill patient would be one a doctor assesses who has less than six months to live.
Although lawmakers agreed with the intent of the bill, formally named the End-of-Life Option Act, some still couldn’t approve it.
Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-District 23A) of Bowie, who was a nurse 20 years ago, said it goes against ethical guidelines among health care professionals.
“Although there are these serious circumstances … ultimately no good can come from this,” she said. “We cannot control the future and the risks are too great. State government should never decide there are parameters upon which government is allowing and setting up a process for the extinguishing of life.”
Del. Terri Hill, a practicing physician and a Catholic, said the bill doesn’t impose societal, religious or governmental beliefs on an individual.
“When you can allay shame and guilt for someone who is acting in a way that relates to their own life and no one else’s and their belief in God and personal relationship with God, than that’s compassion,” said Hill, a Democrat who represents portions of Baltimore and Howard counties. “You don’t have to support that choice for yourself or another else to support this bill. You simply have to accept that this is the kind of decision that an individual should be free to make for themselves.”
Gov. Larry Hogan hasn’t indicated whether he would sign the legislation into law.
“This is a very serious issue and the governor will give this legislation careful consideration should it reach his desk,” said Hogan spokeswoman Shareese Churchill.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.