ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CNS) — A measure that would have legalized physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients in the state of Maryland has been withdrawn from the Senate Judiciary Proceedings Committee by its sponsor, Sen. Ronald Young.
“I think it’s a reaction of relief that, for this year, this very dangerous legislation is not moving forward,” said Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Maryland’s Catholic bishops, who opposed the bill.
Russell expressed gratitude to those who had spoken against it, including advocates for the disabled, advocates for the elderly, doctors and mental health professionals, “for coming forward and making sure this legislation was seen for what it is.”
“As was made patently clear by opponents to the bill,” she said, “it would impact the lives of vulnerable people in multiple ways that can’t be fixed by amending the bill.”
Anya Naegele, associate director of respect for life for the Maryland Catholic Conference, agreed, adding that while some of the proponents of the bill were motivated by an experience with a terminally ill loved one, the opposition was driven by “the practical implications of this bill as it would manifest itself in a regulatory environment.”
Opponents had noted that the bill would have required two medical doctors — not a mental health professional — to determine that the patient had the “capacity” to make medical decisions before being prescribed lethal medication.
“It’s a very, very complex determination,” Naegele told the Catholic Review, the online publication and magazine of the Baltimore Archdiocese.
She added that subtle coercion on the part of a family member or party that would stand to benefit from the patient’s death might not affect the patient’s decision-making capacity, but might “affect the freedom with which the decision is made.”
The bill also would have required medical doctors to determine that the patient was not “suffering from a condition that is causing impaired judgment.”
Some members of the Judiciary Proceedings Committee wondered whether a terminal diagnosis itself — the bill would have made lethal drugs available to those with a prognosis of death within six months — could cause a “condition,” such as depression, that might hamper a patient’s judgment.
Opponents of physician-assisted suicide, which did not move forward for the second consecutive year in Maryland, will not be surprised if proponents return next year or in the future.
“In Maryland and around the country, proponents have been very aggressive on pushing this forward, regardless of how much opposition there is,” Russell said. “We’re hopeful that the very strong coalition of opponents would remain engaged and involved.”
“We’re just going to continue to do what we do every day,” Naegele said, “and continue to think about these issues from the perspective of how they would affect the poor and the vulnerable.”
Zygmont is on the staff of the Catholic Review, the online publication and monthly magazine of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.