ANNAPOLIS — Similar to their counterparts across the hall, Maryland state senators expressed various viewpoints on whether to support amendments on legislation for terminally ill patients to end their lives.
But when a vote came for the measure to receive preliminary approval, it ended in a 23-23 tie.
Because Sen. Obie Patterson (D-District 26) of Fort Washington didn’t vote to move the bill for final approval, it died on the Senate floor.
“I did not cast a vote simply because I could not bring myself to move right or left on the bill,” he said after the vote March 27. “I had to vote my conscience and that’s what I did. I just couldn’t do it.”
He briefly explained his faith played a part in his decision, especially being a member of Fort Foote Baptist Church in Fort Washington where he said some members “were about evenly split” on the topic.
When asked about being the deciding vote that killed the bill, Patterson said he felt comfortable in taking a neutral position.
“My decision was not to cast a vote, but I think I did my job,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s the way it turned out. I don’t regret taking the vote I did.”
Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery County), who sponsored the bill, said he knew Patterson would be a swing vote. However, he expressed optimism it became the Senate’s first time to discuss this legislation on the floor.
A Goucher College poll released in February showed 62 percent of Marylanders supported the bill, formally named the End-of-Life Option Act.
“Maryland is ready for it. Obviously, the Senate is not quite ready,” said Smith, who’s scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan on Friday as a member of the Naval reserve corps. “The fact that [the vote] is 23-23, it still keeps the issue open and before us…I think the dialogue goes forward.”
Religious beliefs played a part in some decisions. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a devout Catholic, said earlier this month he would vote against the bill and he did Wednesday.
Miller and eight other Democrats voted against to move the legislation that included three senators who represent Prince George’s County: Malcolm Augustine, Joanne C. Benson and Melony Griffith, Douglas J.J. Peters and Jim Rosapepe.
On March 7, the House voted 74-66 on the bill, which just passed by three votes and resembles legislation implemented in Oregon for more than 20 years.
The bill outlines how a person must make three requests, both oral and written, to a primary doctor and discuss the decision alone. A consulting physician would examine and review a patient’s records to determine if a lethal prescription would be permitted.
The primary care physician could also make a referral to a mental health professional to receive another diagnosis. A terminally ill patient must be one assessed with less than six months to live.
Slightly more than two weeks after the House vote, the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee approved to move Smith’s bill to the Senate floor with 10 pages of amendments. Some of them were prohibiting a primary care physician, consulting physician and licensed mental health professional from being in the same practice, defining terminal illness as a “progressive, irreversible medical condition,” and ensuring attending physicians provide documentation of other alternatives such as clinical trials and hospice.
Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-District 21) of College Park, who helped craft the bill, said it ensured a person’s primary care physician and a consulting doctor would review a patient’s records to determine if a lethal prescription would be warranted.
One amendment the Senate eliminated dealt with a doctor not being liable for lawsuits. Peña-Melnyk said the seven states and District of Columbia that enacted the legislation incorporated a liability clause.
“What doctor in their right mind would ever do it?” she said. [The Senate] really made it a very bad bill.”
New Jersey lawmakers approved an aid-in-dying bill measure last week to make it the eight state in the nation to approve the measure. Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement he would sign it into law.
Advocates expressed disappointment in Maryland not passing the law.
“This temporary setback in Maryland is deeply disappointing to our brave, seriously ill advocates,” Kim Callinan, CEO of nonprofit group Compassion & Choices that leads national efforts on the measure, 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 … becomes law. Maryland voters strongly support medical aid in dying and terminally ill residents desperately need this option to end needless suffering, so they can die in peace.”