Congressman Elijah Cummings Endorses Maryland End-of-Life Option Act

Dozens of Marylanders Testify at Hearing in Support of Bill Cosponsored by 1/3 of Legislature
February 15, 2019

Rev. Charles McNeil, Kim Callinan, Diane Rehm and Dr. Michael Strauss testifying at Maryland hearing on February 15, 2019.

Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings (7th Dist./Baltimore), the first African American to be named Speaker Pro Tem in the Maryland House of Delegates, today endorsed the Maryland medical aid-in-dying legislation during a bill before the Joint Committee on Health and Government Operations and House of Delegates Judiciary Committee.

The bill, the End of Life Option Act (Richard E. Israel and Roger “Pip” Moyer Act, SB311/HB399), would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they can take if their suffering becomes intolerable, so they can die peacefully.

“…I have experienced the loss of far too many people…some of whom suffered for months knowing they were about to die,” wrote Rep. Cummings in a letter read by Joint Committee on Health and Government Operations Chair Delegate Shane E. Pendergrass (Dist. 13, Howard Co.) during the hearing. “…there are those among us whose conscience can never accept that any person should have the right to choose the manner and timing of their passing [but] at the end of life, an individual’s right to self-determination about one of the most personal decisions that anyone could make supersedes the moral sensibilities of others.”

Congressman Cummings’ endorsement comes one day after a new poll by Public Policy Polling showed Marylanders support medical aid in dying by a 3-1 margin (66% to 20%), including majority support from African Americans (59%) and every other demographic group (Independents: 73%, Democrats: 70%, Republicans: 53%, Whites: 69%, Catholics: 65%, Protestants: 62%, Jews: 67%, and Muslims: 52%).

“My tumors…now in my lungs and liver…are like special ops soldiers…the sheer terror that suddenly sneaks upon me; the fatigue, the vomiting, the numbness and burning in my hands and feet,” said stage IV incurable cancer patient Marci Rubin, a Chevy Chase resident. “Don’t say you understand me. Promise me you will help me…Please don’t let me languish away, fighting for my last shallow breaths.”

“I sat by my husband’s side as he slowly died,” testified WAMU podcast host Diane Rehm, whose husband of 54 years, John Rehm, died in agony in a Chevy Chase nursing home from Parkinson’s disease. “Watching John in those last 10 days of his life made me angry. Why did our laws infringe upon an individual’s decision to peacefully die when dying was inevitable within a few months? … please pass this bill into law, authorizing medical aid in dying for those terminally-ill Marylanders who seek it.”

There are 68 bill cosponsors out of 188 lawmakers. Other supporters include the ACLU, Libertarian Party of Maryland, Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Church, United Seniors of Maryland, WISE (Women Indivisible Strong Effective), Marylanders for End-of-Life Options, and Compassion & Choices Maryland, which is leading the grassroots campaign to pass the bill.

“Data demonstrates the implementation of medical aid in dying contributes to more candid conversations between doctors and patients; higher hospice usage rates and improved palliative care training for physicians,” said Kim Callinan, CEO of Compassion & Choices and a Maryland resident for 20+ years who lives in Kensington. “Maryland lawmakers have a rare trifecta with this bill: widespread public support, conclusive data that it will improve end of life care, and it costs almost nothing to implement.”

According to a 2016 Maryland State Medical Society survey, 65 percent of its members supported changing the organization’s position to supporting the state’s medical aid-in-dying bill (50.2%) or adopting a neutral stance on it (14.6%). The society subsequently adopted a neutral stance on the bill.

“Until you have held the hand of a dying person who is suffering, you may not understand the comfort this option could bring,” testified Rev. Charles McNeill, a former Washington, D.C. police officer and an Army veteran who lives in Ft. Washington, is president of the National Capital Baptist Region, and a member of Compassion & Choices African American Leadership Council. “…your decision about supporting this legislation should not just depend on whether or not you would use the law, but whether or not you would stand in the way of someone suffering at the end of life, who feels like they need it.”

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the End-of-Life Option Act, sponsored by committee vice-chair, Sen. William (Will) C. Smith, Jr. (Dist. 20/Montgomery Co.), this Tuesday, Feb. 19.

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