Bill would allow terminally ill people to end their lives

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Two Maryland lawmakers are planning to introduce a measure that would allow terminally ill people in Maryland to end their lives.

Del. Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, and Sen. Ronald Young, D-Frederick, said they plan to introduce similar bills this week that would allow adults given only six months to live the ability to get a prescription for drugs to hasten their death.

"It's become something that people are starting to think about," Pendergrass said. "It seems from what I've read that a majority of people are in favor of having control over the ends of their lives."

To qualify for the prescription, an adult patient must be given a terminal diagnosis from their physician, with no more than six months to live. The person must also be of sound mind and obtain oral and written consent from two doctors. Once the patient is given the prescription, it is his or her decision to fill it and use it.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, told reporters last week he would watch the progress of the bill in the House of Delegates. The Senate voted in the late 1990s to block doctors from assisting patients in suicide.

"It's an issue that people have profound feelings on," Miller, who is Catholic, said. "My religion says I should be opposed to it, but personally I don't look with disfavor upon the idea."

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's office declined to say whether the governor would sign such a bill, because it is so early in the session, and it remains to be seen what a final bill might look like.

"We are in the very beginning of a long legislative session, and as we all know, most bills have the tendency to look much different by the time April comes around," said Erin Montgomery, Hogan's spokeswoman.

Oregon, Washington, Montana, New Mexico and Vermont are the only states that have made it legal for terminally ill people to hasten their deaths. Other states including California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and the District of Columbia recently have introduced legislation.

The issue was thrust into national headlines last autumn when Brittany Maynard, an Oregon woman diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, decided to take her own life with prescription drugs and used her scheduled death to advocate for more acceptance of death with dignity.

Young said Maynard's story was one of the factors in his sponsorship of the bill.

"I just thought it's time to allow that in Maryland," he said. "I frankly would like that choice when the time comes."

George Eighmey, vice president of the Death with Dignity National Center in Portland, Oregon, also credited Maynard with bringing the issue to light, but said the aging Baby Boomer generation is also the reason the idea of hastening death is getting attention.

"They're recognizing they want to have control of those decisions they will be facing at end of life," Eighmey said. "Not only the medical treatment they receive but those final days."

Among groups watching the momentum is Not Dead Yet, a Rochester, New York-based national advocacy group opposed to such legislation.

"We've seen bills introduced already in more states than previous years," said Diane Coleman, president of Not Dead Yet. "If someone says they want to die, the response from others should always be 'no, no, you're valuable. What can we do to help?'"

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