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Sponsor pulls Md. right-to-die bill; measure done for year

A bill that would allow terminally ill Maryland residents to request and receive fatal doses of medication doesn’t have the support to pass this year, according to its sponsor.

Sen. Ronald Young.

Sen. Ronald Young.

Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick, asked Thursday that the bill be withdrawn from consideration by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee rather than voted down.

Young told reporters that while he believed the bill had enough support on the floor of each chamber to pass, it lacked adequate support from the committee, where it had been slated for a vote that afternoon.

“Had I thought it still had a chance I would have let it go, but I got word that it wasn’t going to pass,” Young said.

A House version of the bill is sponsored by Del. Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, but Young’s decision effectively kills the measure for the year, said Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, who chairs the committee.

Were the bill to pass the House, it would still need the support of Zirkin’s panel.

The bill would have needed six affirmative votes to get a favorable Senate committee report, but only two had committed their support and four more were considering the measure. Young said he learned Thursday morning the votes weren’t there.

Committee members Sens. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, and Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore, were co-sponsors of the bill.

The End-of-Life Option Act – formerly known as the Death With Dignity Act – calls for giving mentally competent, adult Marylanders who have been given six months or less to live the ability to request prescriptions for the lethal doses, which they would need to self-administer. Doctors would be shielded from criminal, civil or disciplinary penalties for writing those prescriptions.

Similar legislation has been considered in previous years, drawing support from civil rights advocates and criticism from advocates for people with disabilities.

The Arc Maryland, for example, argued in written testimony submitted last month that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities were particularly vulnerable to coercion; terminally ill individuals with these disabilities were in danger of not being fully advised of their choices and could find themselves being steered toward death, which would likely be the least expensive option.

This year’s version of the bill added a requirement that patients spend time alone with the doctors to help ensure that were not being pressured or coerced into requesting the lethal dose.

While polling data suggests broad support among voters for allowing this sort of assisted death, Young said he believed support and opposition were falling along party lines.

“I don’t know why it’s become a partisan issue here. I’m unaware of any Republican who was going to vote for it,” said Young, adding that the measure has bipartisan support among the public.

A recent poll commissioned by Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit that advocates for aid-in-dying policies, reported 65 percent of Maryland voters support the idea while 26 percent oppose it. Majorities of the Republicans, Catholics and African-Americans polled generally supported the idea, according to the poll.

A 2015 Goucher poll found that 60 percent of voters supported such a policy, with 35 percent opposing.

Early in the day, Young said he seriously doubted he would reintroduce the measure in the next legislative session because the makeup of the committees that need to approve the bill weren’t likely to change.

“They’re just totally inflexible on it,” Young said, adding that he would have been willing to consider amendments to the bill that didn’t undermine its goals, but “they weren’t brought forth.”

But later, a Young staffer indicated the senator intends to reintroduce the bill next year.

Pendergrass said it was difficult for her to understand opposition to the bill. “People want the ability to control their lives when they have a six-month prognosis,” she said. “It’s hard for me to imagine why anyone would want to deny somebody the choice.”