A bill prohibiting assisted suicide in Maryland cleared an important hurdle last night as a House committee voted to approve the ban.
The 13-8 vote by the House Judiciary Committee sends the legislation to the House floor. A different version of the legislation passed the Senate, 28-19, on March 3.
The Judiciary Committee's vote is significant because the panel had been the chief roadblock to such legislation in the past. Last year, an assisted-suicide bill passed the Senate only to die in the House committee.
Supporters of the ban beat back a series of weakening amendments before a majority approved a motion by Del. Dana L. Dembrow to cut the penalty for assisting a suicide from three years' imprisonment to one year.
The bill applies to all individuals, not just health professionals. It does not apply to decisions to cease extraordinary measures to sustain life, though opponents warned that it could make medical personnel reluctant to honor the provisions of living wills.
If the debate in the committee is any indication, delegates can expect a highly emotional confrontation over the bill on the House floor.
Proponents noted concerns that the pressures of managed care would lead to the use of assisted suicide as a cost-cutting measure.
"I'm going to err on the side of not having people having their life ended sooner than it should be," said Del. Ann Marie Doory, a Baltimore Democrat.
Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat, said he was concerned that African-American patients would be encouraged to end their lives instead of being referred to specialists.
"When I'm sick, I don't want an assisted suicide doctor near anyone in my family or me," he said.
Other supporters drew a distinction between ending one's own life and helping another do so.
"If you want to punch out on your own, then God bless you, but don't get someone else to do it for you," said Del. David Boschert, an Anne Arundel County Republican.
Two of the opponents cited personal experiences with lingering death in the family.
Del. Donald E. Murphy of Baltimore County broke with his fellow Republicans, recalling his father's painful death. He warned delegates that they might some day find themselves in a position where they are confronted with a terminally ill parent's desire to die.
"You'll have the same emotions I had," he said. "When your parent is lying there on the bed, you're not thinking about the big picture."
Del. Sharon M. Grosfeld, a Montgomery County Democrat, said her mother recently died in great pain. She warned delegates that they were interfering with "people who are perfectly capable of making these rational decisions."
Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, said the people who testified for the bill were mostly those with religious motivations or hospice owners with a profit motive. The message from the elderly citizens who testified was "leave us alone," he recalled.
Pub Date: 3/17/99