Greg, who chose not to offer his last name, was one of the dozens of volunteers who took to Annapolis’ Treasury Building and outside Lawyer’s Mall on Tuesday to prepare for lobbying on the main issue of the day: medical aid in dying.
“I was asked by a good friend to buy a gun to shoot himself. He has emphysema, was dying a slow and painful death. I said never again,” Greg declared.
Medical aid in dying, also known as assisted suicide or physician-assisted suicide, allows terminally ill patients to self-administer fatal medications in consultation with a doctor. Currently, this practice is legal in 10 states and the District of Columbia.
“This is the year we’re gonna pass this bill,” said Donna Smith, state director for the Compassion and Choices Action Network, to a roar of applause.
She explained that the bill will likely pass in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where previous iterations of this legislation were stopped by former Judiciary Chairman Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County).
“We still have a long journey and it’s not easy, but we will get it done,”she added.
Other speakers and volunteers told stories of the suffering faced by relatives, friends, and community members who have supported this bill in the past but since succumbed to their terminal illnesses.
“This bill attacks poor people, elderly, and the mentally stable,” said Baltimore resident Al Moulton. “We don’t need to kill them, we need to help them.” He also thanked Senator Patterson for his past opposition to the bill.
Moulton and other volunteers aligned with Maryland Right to Life marched along the streets bearing signs and planned to testify on several bills, including the constitutional amendment on reproductive rights and a tax credit for donations to pregnancy resource centers. While Republicans do not have enough votes to block the bill, several Democrats are known to oppose the bill on religious grounds.
The bill is sponsored by House Health and Government Operations Chair Jocelyn Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) and Senate Judiciary Vice Chair Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery County), and Gov. Wes Moore has come out in favor of the legislation. A Gonzales poll cited by the Compassion and Choices Action Network reported that 61% of Marylanders personally want the option of medical aid in dying, and 71% support Marylanders having the option. Delegate Nicole Williams (D-Prince George’s) and Waldstreicher spoke before the crowd on Lobby Day about their personal stories and vowed to pass the bill this year.
The Aid in Dying legislation passed in the House of Delegates in 2019, but with most Prince George’s Delegates abstaining or voting against. That year, the bill unusually ended in a tie with 23 Senators voting for, 23 Senators voting against, and one Senator abstaining.
The senator who abstained on principle was Obie Patterson (D, D26), who has since retired. Changes in the Senate, including two seats flipping from Republicans to Democrats in Anne Arundel and Harford County, make it more likely the Aid in Dying legislation will pass this year.
“I did not cast a vote simply because I could not bring myself to move right or left on the bill,” Patterson said after the vote. “I had to vote my conscience and that’s what I did. I just couldn’t do it.”
While it was too hard for the Senator to make a decision, for people like advocate Eric Suter-Bell, it can also be difficult to witness loved ones suffer.
“I support the legislation because it allows people to lessen suffering. I worked on a cattle ranch and at a certain point, do you want to be strapped to a bedpan and have machines lead you,” Suter-Bell said. “My grandfather had a number of strokes. The longer it went on, the lower his quality of life was.”
Please pass this bill. When each of my parents died (PS.. am 70), they each asked me to help them die with dignity. Couldn’t because I would go to jail for that. When they each died, I prayed that when my time came, this bill would be legal.
Please pass this bill. I have pancreatic cancer and would like my death to come before intolerable suffering takes everything important away from me. This decision is between a patient and his/her medical advisors. The government has no role in this process and should stay out of it.
Al Moulton simply made a statement without any facts to back him up here: BELIEF: “This bill attacks poor people, elderly, and the mentally stable,” said Baltimore resident Al Moulton. “We don’t need to kill them, we need to help them.”
FACT – There are many many barriers the terminally ill, with less than 6 months to live, must overcome before they are allowed to obtain the method to die with dignity. No one can kill anyone legally. That’s Al is making a sensational statement to back his own problems with others dying with dignity. It’s all about bodily autonomy – Keep your laws off my body. You die as you’d like and I will do the same.
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