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Death with Dignity Legislation Making News in Maryland

Maryland is dynamic this year and Compassion & Choices (C&C) is harnessing the energy to move legislation through the General Assembly.  One hundred Marylanders came out for a March 4th Lobby Day in the state capital, which the Associated Press previewed even before it happened. Midday, supporters stopped for lunch and C&C hosted a press conference, headlined by the bill’s co-sponsor, Delegate Shane Pendergrass and some of C&C’s Maryland volunteer advocates.

The Baltimore Sun blogged about the day’s events here.

Fuller coverage of the press conference came from the hometown paper of Senate Sponsor Ronald Young, the Frederick News Post:

Her body racked with pancreatic cancer, Annette Breiling’s mother informed her family one spring that she had decided to stop eating in hopes of accelerating the dying process.

But there would be 37 long days of fasting before her mother finally succeeded in bringing her life to an end.

“It was a horrible way to die,” said Breiling, of Ijamsville.

More than three decades later, she said, the memories of her mother’s suffering still bring tears to her eyes. And now, they are motivating her advocacy for an aid-in-dying proposal before the Maryland Legislature.

Read the full story from the Frederick News Post here.

Two days after lobby day, Delegate Pendergrass held a hearing on the legislation in the Health and Government Operations in the House of Delegates.

The Washington Post was one of several news outlets to cover the hearing:

Terminally ill patients and those who have cared for them asked Maryland lawmakers on Friday to give people facing death the right to end their lives on their own terms.

The emotional testimony comes as the Maryland General Assembly weighs a “Death With Dignity” bill, a measure that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medications to terminally ill patients.

“I urge you to vote for this bill to give me and others some control over our final days,” said Kelly Lange, a resident of Annapolis who has stage 4 breast cancer and volunteers as a patient advocate. “Most people that I have worked with are not afraid to die. More often, they are afraid of pain, and they are afraid of losing control of their lives and bodies.”

Maryland joins the District and more than a dozen states that are considering what advocates call “aid in dying” statutes — also known as assisted suicide — this year.

Read the full Washington Post story here.

Also last week, the ABC News Station in Baltimore ran a lengthy segment profiling on of C&C’s passionate advocates, Alexa Fraser. Fraser’s dad was a Maryland resident who ended up taking his life with a violent, self-inflicted gunshot as he suffered the ravages of Parkinson’s disease. Voices like Alexa’s are key to building support for aid-in-dying legislation. Here is part of the profile:

She smiles as she recalls her dad, a free spirit who cruised around sports cars with the vanity tag “Enjoy”. He loved life, and he wanted to die on his own terms, his daughter said.  “He certainly would not have lived with dignity for very much longer, as he described dignity,” Fraser said.

She doesn’t know exactly when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, because her dad was extremely private. His deterioration, though, was excruciating to watch, and the disease progressed rapidly during the last 18 months of his life.

As his mind remained sharp—he was still writing letters to Washington Post writers, correcting their grammar—his body was quickly failing…. Alex Fraser tried to take his life twice before succeeding—the first time by swallowing 19 Percocet pills, and the second time by cutting himself.

Watch the full ABC News interview here.

We will have more news coverage following the Maryland Senate Committee hearing this week.