Terminally Ill Marylanders Urge State Senate to Pass Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill NOW

Severn Woman with Terminal Brain Cancer Tells Lawmakers about Her “Great Pain and Trauma”

Terminally ill Marylanders, family members whose loved ones died in agony, doctors, faith leaders, mental health professionals, and policy makers testified Friday about the urgent need to pass the End of Life Option Act (SB 701/HB 643) before the State Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The bill, which has 69 sponsors in the Senate (16) and House of Delegates (53), would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take if their suffering becomes unbearable and die peacefully in their sleep.

“The location of my [terminal brain] cancer directly affects my very person, has already caused me great pain and trauma, and cost me my mobility,” testified 38-year-old Severn resident, Debra Cirasole. “Under this proposal, I...will be granted...a much softer, comforting release at home surrounded by my loved ones … Being granted this right to die with comfort is a compassion that I and others deserve.”

Last March, the Maryland Senate fell just one vote short of passing a heavily amended version of the bill approved by the House of Delegates that had 68 sponsors. The prospects for enacting the bill into law are better in 2020 because of new Senate leadership and Governor Larry Hogan’s statement at the Jan. 8 Annapolis Summit that he’s “willing to look at both sides of that issue.”

“Too many Maryland families have suffered while waiting for the legislature to act,” said Kensington resident Kim Callinan, president and CEO of Compassion & Choices, which is leading the campaign to pass the End of Life Option Act. “The time is now to bring greater compassion and autonomy to the lives of terminally ill Maryland residents.”

“I married the love of my life [Caroline] last year on May 17, 2019, and I lost her six smonths later, on Nov. 23, 2019, to four terrible cancers: liver, bone, spine and colon,” said Fells Point resident Terry Lierman. “I spent the majority of our six-month marriage watching my wife suffer excruciating pain as she begged me to let her die … The doctors knew she was going to die...but because this law had not been passed there was nothing more they could do to ease her suffering.”

Neighboring Washington, D.C. and nine states have authorized medical aid in dying: California, Colorado, Hawai‘i, Maine, Montana (via a state Supreme Court ruling), New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Collectively, these jurisdictions represent more than one out of five Americans (22%) and 40+ combined years of experience successfully implementing this medical practice.

“In 2015, after 20 years of treatment and monitoring, my uncle’s prostate cancer had spread throughout his body and could no longer be treated. By the summer of 2016, he told me he planned to exercise his rights under the new End of Life Option Act that had just passed in California, where he lived,” said Dr. Ilana Bav Levav, MD, a physician, psychotherapist and former president of the Montgomery County Medical Society. “At the time he designated, I put on the music he requested, and sat with him as he drank the solution. He fell asleep quickly, and died within a few hours, in his den, surrounded by family.”

The Maryland State Medical Society adopted a neutral stance on the bill after a 2016 survey showed a majority of its members supported it. Public Policy Polling last February showed Maryland residents support medical aid in dying by a 3-1 margin (66% to 20%), including majority support from Catholics (65%), Protestants (62%), Jews (67%), and Muslims (52%).

“...you will hear a lot from men and women of the cloth about the church’s view [opposing medical aid in dying],” said Rev. Joseph Kitchen, an active member of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden. “...ask them where was the church in the battle to expand health care that might actually avoid some, not all, of these terminal cases? Ask them where [were] the church buses in the fight to expand the minimum wage lifting people out of poverty so they could provide quality health insurance to their families?”

Supporters of the End of Life Option Act include the ACLU, Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ, Maryland Legislative Conference, Young Democrats of Maryland, American Humanist Association, Compassion & Choices Maryland, League of Women Voters of Maryland, Libertarian Party of MarylandMaryland Congressmen Elijah Cummings and Anthony Brown, Marylanders for End-of-Life Options, Suburban Maryland Psychiatric Society, Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland, United Seniors of Maryland, and WISE (Women Indivisible Strong Effective).

“We have met here in this building for the last five years and every year I have lost supporters that spent their last days suffering in pain, but fighting for this law,” said Prince George’s County resident Donna Smith, Maryland campaign director for Compassion & Choices. “Some of them died horrible deaths, they suffered horribly at the end while we complained of the inconvenience of long hearings and hearing uncomfortable testimony. I challenge you to rise above your fears and discomfort about passing this bill. The End of Life Option Act does not cause more people to die; they are already dying. It allows more people to die in peace.”