A committee of the Maryland Senate voted 8-3 on March 22 to send an assisted suicide bill to the floor of the Senate for a vote. If approved by the Senate, the legislation, called the End-of-Life Option Act, would make it legal for adults to end their lives via a lethal dose of prescription drugs if they meet certain conditions and have been deemed by a physician to have six months or less to live. If the measure is adopted and signed into law, Maryland will become the second Atlantic Coast state to approve assisted suicide in recent days as New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has pledged to sign a law passed by the state legislature on March 25.
On March 7, 2019 the assisted suicide legislation passed through the Maryland House by a 74-66 vote. If the Senate follows suit, the fate of the assisted suicide law rests in the hands of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R), who has the power to veto the legislation before it becomes law. Gov. Hogan has expressed caution about the legislation in the past, saying, “I’ll be honest with you, it’s one that I really wrestle with from a personal basis. I understand the passion and concerns on both sides of the issue.” Opponents of physician-assisted suicide are encouraging constituents to call Gov. Hogan’s office and ask him to veto the legislation, while those in favor of the legislation continue trying to rally the support of state legislators.
Advocates of physician-assisted suicide in Maryland have been trying to garner support for its passage since the mid-1990s, to no avail. In 1999, the same year that Dr. Jack Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder for his role in euthanizing a man with Lou Gehrig’s disease, Maryland criminalized the practice. If SB 311 passes through the Maryland senate and is signed into law by the Governor, the 1999 law would be overturned. One need look no further than Oregon to see how different things could have been if Maryland had not banned the practice. In 1999 Oregon released their first full report on assisted suicide called Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act: The First Year’s Experience, detailing the methods used to coldly calculate the deaths of innocent and vulnerable patients by assisted suicide. In 2018, 168 people reportedly died from ingesting lethal drugs under Oregon’s assisted suicide law, compared to 16 people in 1998.
Currently, there is only one federal law in place protecting citizens from physician-assisted suicide. H.R.1003, the Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act of 1997, “prohibits the use of appropriated funds to provide or pay for any health care item or service or health benefit coverage for the purpose of causing, or assisting to cause, the death of any individual.” Citizens and legislators should oppose policies that aim to unethically relieve pain through the death of a patient. Instead, policies that support alternatives, such as palliative care, and encourage pain and symptom management, emotional and spiritual support, and allow patients to die a natural and ethical death should be supported.
Status of 2019 Physician-Assisted Suicide Legislation
States with Active Bills to Legalize or Expand Assisted Suicide in 2019
- Connecticut: SB 374, HB 5898
- Indiana: HB 1184, SB 300
- Iowa: Senate File 175
- Kansas: HB 2089
- Maryland: SB 311, HB 399
- Massachusetts: SD 395, HD 171
- Nevada: SB 165
- New Jersey: A1504, S1072 (awaiting governor’s action)
- New York: A.2694; A30 (study committee bill)
- Oregon: HB 2217, HB 2232, SB 579, HB 2903 (expansion bills)
- Rhode Island: S.157
- Utah: HB 121
States with Active Bills to Limit or Prohibit Assisted Suicide in 2019
- Montana: HB 284 — Overturns the Baxter v. Montana court decision
- New York: S 647 — Prohibits insurance coverage for assisted suicide
States Which Have Defeated Bills/Initiatives to Legalize Assisted Suicide in 2019
- Virginia: HB 2713
- Arizona: HB 2408, HB2512, SB 1193
- New Mexico: HB 90, SB 153
- Arkansas: HB 1536
Hannah Howard, M.S., is a research associate at the Charlotte Lozier Institute.