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Right-to-die debate to resurface in Maryland

Posted: 11:25 AM, Jan 13, 2016
Updated: 2016-01-13 16:25:00Z

Maryland lawmakers will once again debate whether terminally ill residents have the right to die on their own terms.

Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat, said this week she plans to introduce the End of Life Options Act when the 2016 General Assembly session gets underway.

The 90-day session begins in Annapolis Wednesday .

Pendergrass was the lead sponsor on last year’s Death with Dignity Act, which did not come up for a vote after months of debate.

RELATED: No vote of Death with Dignity bill this session; supporters still optimistic

The bill is meant to allow terminally patients who expect to die within six months to request a prescription that would hasten their death.

Eighteen states debated similar bills in 2015, spurred by the story of Brittany Maynard , a California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to take advantage of the state’s long-standing right-to-die law.

Oregon , Washington , Vermont  and now California have physician-assisted dying statutes, according to the Death with Dignity National Center.

Pendergrass said the 2016 bill will have some changes from last year’s proposal, and is similar to the law passed in California last October.

“Now we have the ability to follow along with that trend,” she said.

The delegate said she decided to change the name of the bill because some of those who testified felt the original name meant that other manners of deaths were not dignified.

“And that certainly was not our intent,” Pendergrass said.

This version of the bill also requires the patient to meet privately with a doctor when requesting the prescription, to be sure no one else is influencing him or her, and simplifies other language regarding witnesses.

Pendergrass said she’s optimistic about the bill’s chance for success.

“I think people weren’t ready last year,” she said, adding there were a large number of new lawmakers, some of whom said they didn’t know their constituents well enough to vote in favor of the legislation.

Sen. Ron Young, a Frederick Democrat, was the lead sponsor in the Senate on last year’s bill, and also plans to introduce a new version of the legislation early in the session.

Numerous nationwide polls have indicated widespread support for end-of-life options, Young said.

“Unfortunately, I think with a lot of social issues, legislators tend to be behind the public,” he said.

An advocacy group, Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide , is expected to once again oppose the bill. Young acknowledged push back from the Catholic Church and other religious groups, but emphasized that the proposed legislation is about personal choice.

If you don’t agree with taking medication to end your own life, don’t do it, he said.

“If I was in horrible pain, I don’t know that I would make that choice, but I would like the option,” he said. “I wish with a lot of these issues, we could leave religion and personal views out of it, and just allow it to be a personal choice.”

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