A few weeks ago the Maryland Right to Life group sounded the alarm about a proposed doctor-prescribed suicide bill intended for introduction to the Maryland General Assembly. Sure enough, on February 6 the Richard E. Israel and Roger “Pip” Moyer Death with Dignity Act was introduced in the Senate as SB676. The companion HB1021 was introduced a week later, and differs from the Senate bill in that it has modestly bipartisan support as two Republicans are among the co-sponsors.
In principle, MRTL should be against the bill as it interferes with the natural death process. But in reviewing the reasons MRTL gives for their specific opposition, they lean heavily on the experience the state of Oregon has had with a similar bill. Maryland’s version addresses some of these issues.
The bill is one of those which splits the Republican community, though. Libertarian-minded members see this as a “death with dignity” issue – one example is this piece from Joe Steffen at his Darkness Revisited website. It’s a piece where he asks that:
I’ve heard EVERY counter argument, like, a million times. So, please don’t throw any pro-life/anti-abortion stuff or “unintended consequences” type crap at me.
Hearing every counter-argument isn’t the same as refuting them, however. Truthfully, I can see both sides of this bill and while the MRTL may be going a little overboard with their reaction, I don’t think this bill is going to be the final answer.
First of all, the bill which is supposed to give more freedom to those who would like to end their suffering makes them jump through a number of hoops in order to get their relief. It’s a very complex process, and perhaps that’s by design given some of the alleged abuses detailed in other localities. In most cases, the biggest fear is that of an elderly family member being bullied into making the decision to end his or her life in order to provide personal gain to the heirs or other family members.
Or – even worse – they may be bullied into the decision by the state, such as in this example from Oregon.
But one big problem with Maryland’s proposed law is that it requires the cause of death to be listed as the underlying illness rather than noting the assisted suicide. While there are legitimate reasons for this, such as patient privacy, I think it’s also going to lead to significant underreporting of how many people actually use the procedure.
Regardless, this is a bill which has a reasonably good chance of passage. It’s worth noting that the House version of this bill went to two committees, which is often done if there’s reason to worry about getting through a particular committee. But assuming the bill makes it through second reading, there are enough Democrats in both houses to pass the bill. A handful of Republicans will likely vote yes as well while most vote against it. Governor Hogan, who avoided social issues like the plague during the campaign, will most likely bend to the will of the General Assembly and sign the bill into law.
I understand the emotional appeal to the bill, as most of us know someone who succumbed to a lengthy and painful terminal illness. But the potential for abuse from future amendments to the bill has to be considered as well so I’m not sure I can be on board with this one.