Assisted suicide bill falters in Annapolis again this year



Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith, D-Montgomery (left), and Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City (right), spoke at a press conference on March 1, 2024, where they announced that legislation to legalize medical aid in dying would not move out of its committee phase. (Photo: Sapna Bansil) Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith, D-Montgomery (left), and Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City (right), spoke at a press conference on March 1, 2024, where they announced that legislation to legalize medical aid in dying would not move out of its committee phase. (Photo: Sapna Bansil)

ANNAPOLIS (March 1, 2024)—Lawmakers have tabled a fiercely debated bill that would have granted terminally ill Maryland residents the right to end their lives, a setback to supporters who hoped it would finally pass this year.

Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, said in a press conference Friday that the measure had not won enough support among the 11 members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to move forward this term. Ferguson indicated he was unwilling to bring the bill for a vote if it was likely to fail.

"For this year, it's certainly over," said Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith, D-Montgomery, noting the bill would have fallen one or two votes shy of passing his committee.

Although Democratic leaders—from Gov. Wes Moore to Ferguson and Smith—all previously expressed support for the bill, they said there would be no last-ditch efforts to change lawmakers' minds on an issue that is deeply sensitive for both supporters and opponents.

"I told every member of this committee that on issues like this, it's a vote of conscience," Smith said. "It's so personal. It's such a tough issue … In order to come to me and say, 'Hey, look, I'm expressing unreadiness, I cannot vote for this bill,' I would honor that."

This bill, known as the End-of-Life Option Act, sought to make Maryland the 12th jurisdiction to legalize medical aid in dying, which provides patients with incurable illnesses the option to die by self-administering lethal medication. Patients would have been eligible if they had less than six months to live, were of sound mind and made a series of oral and written requests.

As the Senate and House considered companion bills over the past few weeks, the issue became the subject of contentious debate and hours of testimony. Proponents said aid in dying was a matter of dignity and bodily autonomy, while opponents expressed religious, ethical and moral concerns.

The bill's failure elicited strong emotions from its supporters on Friday, many of whom have experienced years of setbacks on the issue.

"It's gut wrenching," said Sen. Ariana Kelly, D-Montgomery, a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and a bill co-sponsor. "The proponents of this bill have come before the legislature, year after year, explaining why it's necessary. I have a broad community of constituents back at home and friends and colleagues who I see in Annapolis who are gutted … People feel this very personally."

Among those who testified in support of the bill was Diane Kraus, a 59-year-old Baltimore woman living with metastatic breast cancer. She said she wanted to have the option of medical aid in dying in the event her condition became terminal.

"I'm really disappointed," Kraus said in a phone interview. "I don't want to have to move out of state in order to be able to use this."

But one opponent said the bill's demise was the right outcome.

"I'm actually very pleased," said Sen. Mike McKay, R-Allegany, Garrett and Washington. "I know that it's a very, very personal piece of legislation that affects each of us much differently than [Republicans] to [Democrats] or rural to suburban … There's just people [who] weren't comfortable moving forward."

While the bill has met its end for this session, lawmakers said they anticipate reintroducing aid-in-dying legislation in upcoming terms.

"This is one that in time, maybe things will change with more education and more discussion," Ferguson said. "And so it's best to just know that it's just not happening this year."

Angelique Gingras contributed reporting for this story.

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