Assisted-suicide law should be adults only, Baltimore delegate says

Proposed amendment prompted by Arundel case

March 02, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore delegate annoyed with the move by Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee to charge a 16-year-old Crofton youth with violating Maryland's ban on assisted suicide is hoping to change the law to prevent prosecutors from using it against other juveniles.

On Tuesday, the teen-ager, who police believe entered into a suicide pact with his girlfriend, became the first person charged with breaking the new law. The measure took effect Oct. 1.

That has worried some delegates and senators, who had Michigan doctor Jack Kevorkian in mind a year ago when they made assisted suicide a felony punishable by up to a year in jail. Juvenile court can retain control of young offenders until age 21 through programs ranging from residential centers to probation with conditions.

"He does not have to use a law that was intended for the medical system," said Del. William H. Cole IV, a Baltimore Democrat and a prime sponsor of the bill changing the law. He said because of the difference in maturity between adults and youths, the law should apply only to adults.

Cole said he did not see how using the assisted-suicide law against juveniles would act as a deterrent or get help for a troubled youth. This week, legislators heard that troubled juveniles can wait up to nine months for a place in a residential treatment center.

"His bill is pretty stupid," Weathersbee said. "I don't know of any law that applies only to adults. It might be a first." He said exempting children would weaken the law by inviting adults to get children to act for them.

Besides, Weathersbee said, the youth was detained on two other charges stemming from the suicide Oct. 18 of 15-year-old Jennifer Garvey, his girlfriend of five months -- possession of a handgun and reckless endangerment.

"Obviously, the fact that this applies to a juvenile allows us to ask the court to provide guidance, treatment and rehabilitation to what is a very troubled youth," Weathersbee said.

The boy, who had three psychiatric hospitalizations and was under treatment, was ordered yesterday by a juvenile master to be held at the state's Cheltenham Youth Facility under a suicide watch. He is awaiting evaluation at Crownsville Hospital Center.

Officials said he and Jennifer, who dreamed of a Hollywood career and was being treated for depression, had a suicide pact. The youth said he took his stepfather's gun to the scene but fled after she shot herself in the head.

The bill, co-sponsored by Democratic Dels. Kenneth C. Montague Jr. of Baltimore and Sharon M. Grosfeld of Montgomery County, has not drawn much attention since it was filed last month, and no companion bill has been filed in the Senate. It will be heard in the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

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