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Terminally ill should be given the choice

Indy editorial

Will the terminally ill finally get to control the last days of their lives and potentially end their suffering with peace and dignity? We hope so, but there are still hurdles in the way of allowing sometimes desperately ill, and in pain, people from ending their own suffering legally and peacefully.

Seven states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical aid in dying. Maryland is not yet on that list. But a set of bills backed by legislators on both sides of the aisle would change that.

The End-of-Life Option Act, also known as the Richard E. Israel and Roger “Pip” Moyer Act, 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 decide to take if their suffering becomes unbearable, so they can die peacefully in their sleep,” according to a press release from Compassion and Choices Maryland.

An individual would need to consent three times — twice orally and once in writing — and two doctors would have to confirm that person is of sound mind, if a physician deems a psychological evaluation necessary. The patient must also wait 15 days between the two oral requests, the second of can’t be made within 48 hours of the written request.

This legislation was first introduced in 2015 but hasn’t gotten enough traction to make it to the governor’s desk. Last year the bill fell one vote short in the Senate while cruising through the House of Delegates on a 74-66 vote.

Backers of the legislation had renewed hope this year with Gov. Larry Hogan (R) saying at the Jan. 8 Annapolis Summit that he’s “willing to look at both sides of that issue.” It was also hoped that new leadership in the Senate would prove fruitful. After all, the new leader of the Senate was signed on as a co-sponsor of the legislation last year.

Unfortunately, the new Senate president, Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore city), told The Washington Post that he wouldn’t move the bill to the floor in that chamber “unless there is a clear indication that senators have changed their position.” And the news on that front isn’t very good.

Last year, nearly 70 senators and delegates — more than a third of the General Assembly — signed on as co-sponsors of their respective bills, and this year 69 are signed on as co-sponsors — 16 in the Senate and 53 in the House. The Senate bill last year had 19 of its 47 members as co-sponsors, including Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles). Ellis is not listed this year. And Ferguson is no longer on that list as Senate president.

The House bill could pass again this year, but the Senate bill is currently two votes short on the count. Sometime in the next 26 days or so before the end of the session, those two votes will be needed before it goes to the floor, and on to the governor’s desk.

We urge Senators in Southern Maryland as well as others around the state, Democrat and Republican, to sign on to this needed, compassionate legislation.

Public opinion polling last year showed wide support for the change in law. And that support has come from nearly every political corner and demographic. A Public Policy Polling survey showed support for medical aid in dying to be more than 3 to 1, with 66% of respondents in favor and only 20% against. Even Republicans, traditionally against such legislation, were polled at 53% in favor. In a Goucher College poll released around the same time, Marylanders supported medical aid in dying by a 2-to-1 margin, 62% to 31%.

Our legislators should also take a look at the testimony given during a 4½-hour hearing Feb. 28 in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

“The location of my [terminal brain] cancer … has already caused me great pain and trauma, and cost me my mobility,” 38-year-old Severn resident Debra Cirasole told senators in the public hearing. “Under this proposal, I … will be granted … a much softer, comforting release at home surrounded by my loved ones. … Being granted this right to die with comfort is a compassion that I and others deserve.”

It’s a comfort we should all have the right to choose for ourselves and our families, and something that people like Cirasole need right now. We urge senators and delegates to finally pass the End-of-Life Option Act.

And, we ask the governor to then sign his name to it so those facing a sure and painful death can instead seek peace and dignity.