Assisted suicide proposal successfully rebuffed again in Maryland legislature — By: Catholic News Agency

Baltimore, Maryland / Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 6, 2024 / 14:42 pm (CNA).

Lawmakers in Maryland this week halted the advancement of a proposal to legalize physician-assisted suicide in the state, the latest instance in recent years of such a proposal failing to advance in Maryland amid opposition from Catholic groups. 

HB933, also known as the End-of-Life Option Act (The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings and the Honorable Shane E. Pendergrass Act), would have legalized physician-assisted suicide for certain patients with terminal illnesses who went though a requesting procedure. The bill failed to move out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in the Maryland General Assembly March 1. 

The Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops as well as the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, reported that the bill was only “one to two votes short” on the 11-member committee that was considering the bill. Maryland’s House leadership, which was considering a companion bill, had said they would not move ahead unless the Senate did.

The leader of the MCC said their advocacy campaign against the bill led to a large mobilization of Catholics in Maryland, who contacted their lawmakers to express their opposition. Assisted-suicide bills have been considered in Maryland numerous times since the 1990s, but have never passed. In 2019, the measure introduced at the time failed by a single vote. 

“What’s really important is that people understand that their voice and their phone calls and their emails do make a difference,” Jenny Kraska, MCC’s executive director, told CNA this week. 

The MCC partnered with Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide (MAPAS), a nonprofit coalition of medical, disability rights, and faith groups that opposed the legislation. 

“I hope that people will see this and be energized by the fact that in a very deeply blue state, we were able to defeat the legislation this year and not have it come up for a vote. I hope that people will take heart in that and get involved in their own state and become active,” Kraska continued. 

Instead of assisted suicide or euthanasia the Catholic Church supports palliative care, which means accompanying patients toward the end of their lives with methods such as pain management, and not accelerating the process of death. Withholding “extraordinary means” of medical treatment and allowing death to occur naturally, on the other hand, can be morally permissible under Catholic teaching.

Kraksa said she understood there to be an “expectation going into this session” among lawmakers that the measure was likely to pass, but that the “votes were close.” Kraska said despite there being some homegrown support in Maryland for the introduction of assisted suicide, it is clear that “the vast majority of Marylanders” do not want the pratice introduced in their state. 

“What we’ve seen over the years is that it’s not a Catholic issue. This spans so many different faith traditions [and] different diverse groups of people,” she said. 

“We saw the medical community come out in full force discussion to really oppose the bill. And I think that that even carries more weight…I think that that’s part of the strength of the opposition that we saw this year in Maryland, was that it was coming from so many different perspectives.”

Kraska said she has spoken to leaders of other state Catholic conferences who have have reached out to her seeking advice on how to mobilize Catholics in opposition to assisted suicide. She said the MCC created an online toolkit for parishes with homily ideas, parish bulletin announcements, social media posts, and prayer cards. 

“I think that that was part of the success in terms of educating our own folks in the pews, [and] making it easy for parishes to access information is important,” she said. 

Today, almost a quarter of the U.S. population lives in a state that has legalized physician-assisted suicide. Other states, including Massachusetts and New York, are considering legalization this year. 

The Maryland legislation would have allowed individuals with a terminal illness — i.e., with a prognosis of six months survival or less — to request assisted suicide from a physician. 

The process for requesting Maryland’s “aid in dying” would have started with a patient making an oral request to a physician, and then submitting to the physician a written request. The individual would then make another oral request to the physician at least 15 days after the first oral request and 48 hours after the written request. 

The written requests would have been required to be signed by two other witnesses attesting that the patient is of sound mind and not being coerced into killing themselves. The physician then would have been allowed to prescribe lethal drugs to the patient, who would take the drugs themselves. 

Only the patient themselves would have been allowed to request the assisted suicide, and at least one of the oral requests would have been required to have been done while the patient was alone with the physician. Physicians would have been shielded from criminal and civil prosecution, and would have been allowed to refuse to participate in the process. 

The Catholic bishops of Maryland registered their opposition to the bill, penning an open letter denouncing state legislators’ decision to consider the bill and calling for “a better path forward.” 

The letter said that in every state where assisted suicide has been legalized, “grave abuses and expansion have occurred,” which makes the lethal practice “available to far more people and not just those facing imminent death.”

“There is a better path forward for the people of Maryland, and it does not involve suicide,” the letter said.

“We urge all people of goodwill to demand that our lawmakers reject suicide as an end-of-life option and to choose the better, safer path that involves radical solidarity with those facing the end of their earthly journey,” the letter said.

Dr. Joseph Marine, a Johns Hopkins professor of medicine who testified before the Maryland House this year in opposition to the measure, told CNA in a statement that he was “glad that the Maryland General Assembly is not moving forward with this dangerous and flawed bill, as it demonstrates they took seriously the concerns of medical professionals in the state like myself, as well as a broad coalition of Marylanders, including diverse minority and disability communities.”

“As a doctor, I always try to help people and alleviate suffering. Making high-quality, ethically-grounded palliative, pain-management, and hospice care more accessible to Marylanders is what legislators should focus on, not giving doctors a license to take life with a prescription of poison,” Marine said. 

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