Grace, mercy, and compassion were the words of the day at Compassion & Choices’ Interfaith Rally held at the State House plaza in Annapolis, Maryland.
“If we live in grace and dignity and respect, then we should die in grace,” said Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler, senior minister at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C. “God did not intend for us to suffer.”
Hagler and six other religious leaders from various faiths spoke about the intersection of their beliefs and autonomy at the end of life. Several called on Maryland lawmakers to enact the Richard E. Israel and Roger “Pip” Moyer End-of-Life Option Act under consideration in the Maryland General Assembly.
“I am a human being. I am in charge of me,” said Rabbi Don Berlin, rabbi emeritus, Temple Oheb Shalom, Baltimore.
The event was organized by C&C’s Faith Communities for Choice initiative and its Maryland Faith Outreach Committee.
At least 70 volunteers attended, many holding signs that shared their religion – highlighting the diversity of viewpoints represented in our movement. “As a Catholic, I believe in peace, love, mercy and dignity in life and death,” read Alida Loinaz Weston’s message.
Other participants shared the names of loved ones who had died difficult deaths and whose experience motivated them to advance aid-in-dying laws.
“My father shouldn’t have needed to ask me to shoot him to put him out of his misery,” read one sign. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands and wives were remembered.
The gathering included a responsive reading segment, with the crowd replying, “As faithful people, we respect and honor this choice.” It was led by Rev. Paige Getty, minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, MD; with the words of Minister Verdell A. Wright, Communication, Culture & Media Studies, Howard University; Chaplain Pratima Dharm (Retired, US Army); and Sarah Gonzalez, religious educator. Chaplain Dharm read a Hindu prayer, including the lines, “O Sacred One, keep me not in the darkness of physical death or ignorance, but lead me towards the light of eternal life or spiritual knowledge.”
Legislative sponsors pledged to press on until this bill becomes law … this year, or next year or the next. “We will prevail,” was their clear message. House of Delegates sponsors Shane Pendergrass, Angela Angel, Eric Ebersole, Shelly Hettleman, Terri Hill, Jimmy Tarlau, and Senators Ron Young and Cheryl Kagan inspired the crowd with their commitment to championing the bill until it is law. Several cited overwhelming support among their constituents.
Many of those on the plaza were members of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Legislative Ministry Maryland. Members of the choir from the UU Church of Silver Spring, MD, led the group in song, including We Shall Overcome, modifying the lyrics to the final verse – “We shall live in peace” – to “We shall die in peace.” Those who were honoring a deceased loved one joined them for that poignant moment, which occurred under a statue of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
“Let us pray that our legislators understand that it’s not about unnecessary death, but what is necessary for life,” said Rev. Liz Lerner Maclay, senior minister at the UU church in Silver Spring.
Rev. Alexander F. Vishio, assistant minister for social justice and witness, United Church of Christ, Central Atlantic Conference, who has testified in support of the bill, rightly stated, “This is an urgent matter. Every day, people are dying with fear, anxiety and great terror.”
The final religious leader reminded attendees that prayer comes in many forms. When Martin Luther King, Jr., marched, protested and was arrested, he was praying, said Rev. Dr. Ignacio Castuera, a United Methodist minister currently serving at Trinity United Methodist Church in Pomona, California. Castuera encouraged participants to pray similarly by sending e-mails, writing letters and visiting lawmakers.
When the rally concluded, participants went straight to the halls of the House of Delegates to ask their lawmakers to support the aid-in-dying legislation.