March 17, 2009

Protect the poor as budget is cut

The state announced last week that its revenues will come in $1.1 billion below previous estimates over the next two years, and legislators must now find an additional $500 million in cuts to the state budget to restore balance, even after accounting for federal stimulus aid ("As revenues slip, O'Malley warns of fresh budget cuts," March 11).

This means that devastating cuts could be in store for the programs and state workers that serve low-income Marylanders - the very programs and workers that are called on more and more as our economy declines.

Maryland's safety net is already near the breaking point. A seven-year hiring freeze has resulted in a loss of 1,700 employees in the Department of Human Resources. Many of these employees worked in local social services departments, where their remaining colleagues now struggle to keep up with a flood of new applications for assistance.

As more Marylanders find themselves in need because of job losses, foreclosures and high energy costs, more will seek assistance from the state. Others already living below the poverty line will see their situations become even direr.

This is precisely the wrong time to cut the programs and state workers that provide vital assistance to Marylanders in need. Gov. Martin O'Malley and state lawmakers must work to ensure that Maryland's safety net is intact enough to support those it was created to assist.

Julie Varner, Annapolis

The writer is the chairwoman of the Maryland Alliance for the Poor.

Is it compassionate to prohibit suicide?

In his critique of assisted suicide, Paul Malley underestimates the degree to which other people's wishes may differ from his own ("Wrong solution," Commentary, March 10).

Depression and hopelessness are not the only reasons terminally ill patients wish to end their lives. Many individuals see nothing undignified about choosing to end their lives at the time and manner of their choosing - and many view such a choice as the meaningful culmination of a good life.

When I no longer can speak for myself, I would like my health care provider to end my life in as quick and painless a manner as possible.

Unfortunately, even if I write that instruction in my living will and inform my health care proxy of my wishes, Maryland will not let me do so. How exactly is such a policy compassionate?

Jacob M. Appel, New York

The writer teaches bioethics at New York University.

Autonomy is key to value of life

Paul Malley's column mentioned the one possible misuse of Oregon's Death with Dignity law ("Wrong solution," Commentary, March 10).

But after 10 years of experience, Oregon's law has worked smoothly for the tiny percentage of dying citizens who chose to use it. And all the rest of the dying had the comfort of knowing that they had a choice.

The motivation for many of the dying patients who chose assisted suicide has not been their pain but that they could not accept loss of autonomy.

For them, life lost its value when they no longer had control over it.

Carleton W. Brown, Perryville

Card check bill unfair to workers

Congress will soon be considering the Employee Free Choice Act.

This bill must be strongly opposed because it would remove the right of American workers to decide by private ballot whether to join a union.

This isn't an anti-union argument, just a plea to protect workers' historic rights.

This bill is a serious threat to our workers and to small business, and it must be defeated.

Dave Thompson, Elkton

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