Groups fight move to narrow reach of assisted-suicide law

Measure's first target, unexpectedly, was a teen

March 09, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Opponents of a bill that would narrow Maryland's law banning assisted suicide told a House committee yesterday that proposed changes would make the law too weak.

In a Judiciary Committee hearing, opponents said the proposed changes offered a way around the year-old law, and didn't limit it to the intended target of health professionals, such as Dr. Jack Kevorkian of Michigan and his suicide machine.

Del. William H. Cole IV, a Baltimore Democrat, and two other delegates are sponsoring a bill to make the law apply only to adults. They are annoyed that the first application of the law has been an unintended one: prosecution of a troubled 16-year-old Crofton boy charged as a juvenile in connection with the suicide of his 15-year-old girlfriend, Jennifer Garvey.

Investigators believe he gave his stepfather's handgun to her in a suicide pact, watched her shoot herself in the head and then fled.

The association of Maryland prosecutors opposes the proposed age limit change.

"We shouldn't give a pass to someone who is under the age of 18 just because he is under the age of 18," said Anne Arundel County Assistant State's Attorney William M. Katcef, for the Maryland State's Attorneys Association.

Two delegates, members of the Judiciary Committee, also opposed the bill, saying they saw no reason to carve out exceptions. One issue is that while lawmakers want to target assisted suicide by doctors, nurses and other health care workers, they also want to keep other adults from participating in a suicide. Others fear that by limiting the law to adults, they would create a loophole that lets adults use juveniles in suicides.

The proposal also would change the law by eliminating a section that covers anyone who coerces another person into suicide, an alteration opposed by Maryland Right to Life. The organization sees that change as weakening the law, said J. David Lam, associate executive director.

Cole said he was not trying to "disable" the law, just to fine-tune it so it applies as the General Assembly intended a year ago.

The committee has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill.

Anne Arundel State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said last week that he charged the boy as a juvenile on Feb. 29 with assisted suicide, possession of a handgun and reckless endangerment because he wants to ensure that the youth gets help. In Juvenile Court last week, the youth was described as very troubled and likely suicidal.

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