An assisted suicide bill has been introduced in the Maryland legislature, and opposed groups have criticized the bill for its lack of safeguards.
"As Catholics we stand firm with our partners across the state to strongly oppose this legislation," Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said Feb. 1.
"Our state has repeatedly rejected this group’s agenda and with good reason: assisted-suicide threatens Maryland’s most vulnerable, putting those with disabilities, the elderly, our veterans, and those battling prescription drug addiction at grave risk.”
The “End-of-Life Option Act” was introduced in both houses of the Maryland General Assembly last week. House Bill 399 is scheduled for a hearing Feb. 15, and Senate Bill 311 Feb. 19.
This is the fourth attempt in five years to legalize assisted suicide in the state. The move is being supported by the Compassion and Choices, an Oregon-based group that advocates for assisted suicide. Similar bills were introduced 2015, 2016, and 2017 but were withdrawn before they could be voted down.
If passed, the bill would permit doctors to prescribe lethal medications to patients with a terminal illness and six months left to live. The bill would overturn a 1999 Maryland law that banned assisted suicide, and it would protect from prosecution doctors who prescribe the drugs.
As in previous years, the bill is opposed by the Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide coalition, of which the Catholic conference has been a long-time member. The bills have also been opposed by groups such as the Maryland Psychiatric Society and Baltimore City Medical Society.
"We encourage everyone who is passionate about this issue to join the MAPAS coalition, sign up for alerts and follow the coalition on social media to stay up-to-date on action on this bill," said Briemann. "The coalition is the best resource for information on the fight against PAS and the primary voice in Maryland in opposing this predatory practice."
According to the Catholic Standard, the bill has been criticized for its potentially dangerous flaws. The MCC found that, under the bill, no assessment screens for depression nor is there a supervisor to ensure a patient is not pressured into the process. The bill also does not require a medical professional to be present during the suicide, or a contingency if the attempt is unsuccessful.
In a Jan. 31 statement, MAPAS said the plan cannot be truly fixed because there is no set of safeguards which fully protect vulnerable people from abuse or negligence.
“There is no legislative solution to the fact that doctors cannot accurately predict a 6 month terminal diagnosis. There is no way to cover up in legislation that patients in states where this is legal are requesting the lethal drugs because they feel like they are a burden on their family, not because they are in pain.”
Assisted suicide is legal by law in the District of Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont, Hawaii, and Colorado; and in Montana through a state supreme court ruling.
According to MAPAS, Dr. Joseph Marine, an associate professor of medicine at John Hopkins, said this kind of end-of-life care is dangerous to Maryland, noting other states have already witnessed its ugly effects.
“We are already seeing reports of insurance companies in some states declining to cover the cost of life-extending treatments, and instead paying for these drug overdoses that end a patient’s life.”