Maryland lawmakers table proposed assisted suicide bill
Thursday, April 23, 2015 11:30 AM
Maryland lawmakers have tabled a proposal that would allow terminally ill patients to end their own lives, but supporters of the measure have vowed to reintroduce the measure next January.
Maryland Education Credit blocked
By Zoey Di Mauro
Despite bipartisan support in the legislature and a showing of 700 nonpublic school students at the capital for an advocacy day in March, the Maryland legislative session ended on April 13 without the passage of the Maryland Education Credit, a bill that would allow businesses to receive tax credit for donating to education nonprofit organizations.
“We are very frustrated that the tax credit did not pass,” said Mary Ellen Russell, head of the Maryland Catholic Conference. “...But we will continue to fight until underprivileged children have access to the best education possible.”
In the final weeks of the session, “House Speaker Mike Busch refused to move the bill out of committee, forcing the governor to propose a supplemental budget that included $5 million for a grant program to businesses that donate to nonpublic school scholarship organizations,” reported the Maryland Catholic Conference in an April 15 release.
Yet the state budget was passed by the legislature without accepting several of the governor’s priorities, including the education tax credit. Still, thanks to the support of Gov. Hogan and leaders in the Senate, the bill “came closer than ever to passing,” the release said.
Russell said in an interview with the Standard that she is grateful to the Archdiocese of Washington for its staunch support of the bill, and as for next year, she hopes that with more experience, the governor as well as the many new legislators can help the bill become law. “I continue to encourage everyone to stand strong, because we’re going to get there,” she said.
The action comes after the Maryland House of Delegates and State Senate heard emotional testimony on both sides of the issue during two days of hearings on a “death with dignity” law. Lawmakers were considering allowing a terminally ill patient to seek aid in hastening his or her death and exonerating those physicians who provide the medication to carry out that request.
Maryland Senate and House panels looking at the law decided not the vote on the proposal, effectively killing it before it could reach the full General Assembly.
“Thanks to the diligent efforts of a diverse coalition of medical professionals, advocates for those with disabilities and the frail elderly, and the faith community, the physician assisted suicide bill was never put to a vote this year,” said Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference. “It is clear that many legislators recognized the tremendous problems raised by the bill and were unwilling to move the measure forward.”
Russell and the MCC were among that “diverse coalition” who testified before lawmakers, urging them to reject the measure. She had warned “of the many dangers the legislation poses to vulnerable populations.”
“Our concerns about the bill are shared by numerous other groups, including members of the medical community, disability groups, advocates for vulnerable elders, and others,” she told lawmakers during hearings in March. “From the perspective of the Church, however, we wish also to convey our deep dismay about the message this legislation sends to those who might feel that their illness and the care they require is nothing more than a burden to their families and the rest of society.”
Opponents of the “death with dignity” measure who testified before lawmakers include a broad spectrum of religious organizations, social service providers, advocates for the disabled, medical professionals and a host of private individuals. Among those who voiced concern over the proposal are the National Council of Disability, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Not Dead Yet, the Maryland Psychiatric Society and the Suburban Maryland Psychiatric Society, the Maryland Department of Disabilities, the Maryland Disability Law Center, the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, Maryland Right to Life, the Arc Maryland, the Baltimore Jewish Council, and the Upper Room Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Support Group.
Del. Shane Pendergrass (D-Howard County), one of the sponsors of the House version of the bill, told media outlets that the issue will be brought up again in the next session.
Russell said the fight is not over, and assisted suicide opponents must remain vigilant.
“We need to recognize … how important it will be over the next several months to strengthen the Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide Coalition so that we can be prepared for what will likely be an even stronger push to pass the bill next year,” she said.
The coaltion’s website – www.stopassistedsuicidemd.org – includes information about the legislation and ways to fight the proposal, which it calls “unnecessary, flawed, and lacks safeguards.”
Maryland is one of 15 states considering “death with dignity” legislation this year.