Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill Introduced with High Hopes to Become Law, Thanks to Support from Senate President, Governor

January 18, 2024

Longtime supporters of medical aid-in-dying legislation cheered the reintroduction of the bill Thursday with high hopes that it will pass this year, thanks to support from Senate President Bill Ferguson, Governor Wes Moore, and House Government Operations Committee Chair, Delegate Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk. The House bill number is HB 403; the Senate bill number is not posted yet.

diane kraus

Baltimore resident Diane Kraus, who has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.

Washington, D.C. and 10 states allow mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the option of medical aid in dying to peacefully end unbearable suffering, including nearby New Jersey, but Maryland currently does not.

Maryland Matters reported last week that Senate President Ferguson said that the medical aid-in-dying bill will likely get a Senate vote this year, concluding: “I would say it’s probably going to be one of the headline issues to be addressed this year.” Gov. Moore endorsed medical aid in dying last year, stating: “[W]e as a state have to make sure that we are protecting that ability for people to be able to make those clear-mind, clear-hearted, independent decisions about the suffering that they are enduring…”

“I am grateful that my terminal condition is stable so I can spend as much time as possible with my son. But, I know I am declining week by week,” said Baltimore resident Diane Kraus, who has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. “I’ve dealt with tumors in my lungs, liver, lymph nodes, bones, skull, brain, and cerebellum. As an occupational therapist for 36 years, mainly in-home care and hospice, I know that even the best hospice cannot relieve every patient’s suffering. That’s why I want this gentle end-of-life care option for myself.”

More than seven out of 10 Maryland voters (71%) support medical aid in dying, including majorities across the geographic, political, racial, and political spectrums, according to a 2023 poll by Gonzales Research & Media Services. Prior Gonzales polls on the issue showed support levels of 69% in 2021 and 66% in 2020. In addition, the  Maryland State Medical Society adopted a neutral stance on the bill after a 2016 survey showed a majority of its members supported it.

“Innovative technologies have redefined the boundaries of medicine, resulting in amazing life-saving treatments and unintended end-of-life suffering.  With medical advances comes the profound responsibility to provide options like medical aid in dying, ensuring that we are not abandoning patients in their final hours, especially after inflicting prolonged suffering, said Kensington resident Kim Callinan, president/CEO of Compassion & Choices Action Network. “After nine years of debate on the Maryland End of Life Option Act, I ask our lawmakers to find it in their hearts to show love and compassion to terminally ill Marylanders like Diane Kraus and pass medical aid-in-dying legislation this session.

The End–of–Life Option Act (The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings and the Honorable Shane E. Pendergrass Act) is sponsored by Senator Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18th District/Montgomery County) and Delegate Terri Hill, M.D. (D-District 12, Baltimore and Howard Counties). The bill is named after the retired Maryland Delegate Shane Pendergrass, who championed the legislation from 2015 to 2022, and Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, who endorsed the bill in 2019, just months before his death from cancer. He said: “As a just and compassionate society, we cannot value life in the abstract and deny to those who are about to die the self-determination that they deserve.”

“The polling is clear: Marylanders of all stripes are united in support of this option–it’s important to them,” said Senator Waldstreicher, Vice-Chair of the Senate Judiciary Proceedings and Regulations Committee, which has jurisdiction over this issue. “This is absolutely the year we will get this done. It’s an issue of liberty. It’s an issue of compassion. It’s an issue of caring. It’s an issue of empathy. It’s an issue of bodily autonomy. Most of all, it’s an issue of justice. Now is the time.”

“As a physician, I understand the limits of modern medicine to relieve suffering and respect the autonomy of mentally capable individuals to weigh their unique circumstances in reaching decisions about their options,” said House of Delegates bill co-sponsor Delegate Terri Hill, M.D. (D-District 12, Baltimore and Howard Counties), a member of the Health and Government Operations Committee, which also has jurisdiction over this issue. “Having been part of the discussion and seen the legislation evolve, I believe it adequately addresses questions of protections of all patients, and particularly vulnerable patients, from coercion, misinformation, and other forms of exploitation and abuse, I am comfortable with the balance struck in this compassionate legislation. The majority of the public, even those who do not want it for themselves, support allowing individuals to have the option to make end-of-life decisions when facing terminal illness. That includes 70% of African Americans. Most of my constituents support it, and so do I.”

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