‘End-of-Life Option Act’ draws passionate testimony before Maryland Senate committee

This article originally appeared here, at heraldmailmedia.com

The Maryland General Assembly is considering legislation that proponents call the “End-of-Life Option” and opponents of the bill call “assisted suicide.” One hearing took place last week and another is scheduled to take place Friday.

State Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery, sponsored the legislation and laid out the proposed process that includes multiple requests from a “terminally ill” individual to multiple doctors, including a check by a mental health professional to ensure the individual has the “capacity to make medical decisions” during a three-plus hour bill hearing last Thursday.

More than six dozen (77) people signed up to speak before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and there were 131 submissions of written testimony, according to a committee document that was emailed to a Maryland USA Today network reporter. The submissions against the bill (113) were more than double the amount of those in favor (50). In addition to the 50 in favor, three other individuals were in favor of the legislation with amendments.

State Sen. Mike McKay, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, asked at least four line-item questions over a 40-minute period about the legislation to the bill’s sponsor, including why six months was included in the legislation as a period for “terminal illness.”

The testimony and remarks during the hearing did not fall on predictable or partisan lines. Doctors testified both for and against. Leaders from various faiths also testified for and against.

Maryland is not one of 10 states that allow process

Those who came to testify at the hearing last week only had one minute to speak on the bill  either for or against, according to Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee rules.

“It pains me because you’re listening to people who are talking about some of the difficult moments of their life,” said Committee Chair Sen. William Smith, Jr., D-Montgomery, in a subsequent Feb. 12 interview near the Senate floor, “but it is logistically impossible for us to digest all of the material that we have if we don’t curtail some of the testimony.”

One person whose window speaking on Thursday was originally cut short was Dan Diaz, whose wife, Brittany Maynard, died in 2014 after cancer caused the couple to move from California to Oregon pursue the option that is legal in that state. “I’ve actually lived this experience firsthand,” he told the committee.

“This program does not result in more people dying,” said Diaz, interrupted by the automatic one-minute bell timer. “It simply results in fewer people suffering,” he concluded.

Oregon is one of 10 states that allows a doctor to write lethal prescriptions for dying patients to self-administer, said the bill’s fiscal note. Approximately 19 states, including Maryland, are considering similar legislation in their current legislative sessions.

After wife’s death, witness has lobbied across country for bills

McKay, opposed to the legislation, asked Diaz to come back to the lectern to finish his remarks.

“Dan, you and I got to meet each other,” said McKay, more than five hours into that afternoon’s bill hearings (10 bills had been heard prior). “I think you were running out of time, and you had a couple other things that you wanted to say. As a respect of being on different sides of this, I still want you to be able express what you were going to finish to say, sir.”

Diaz shared his experience lobbying for similar bills across the country after his wife’s death.

“In keeping my promise to her, I just want to emphasize that this legislation truly is about choice,” he said, “If somebody is opposed to it, they simply would never apply for it.”

Both men, McKay and Diaz, were visibly choked up, pausing during their respective remarks.

In a subsequent interview, McKay said the two met in Indianapolis during the National Conference of State Legislatures last year as Diaz worked a booth advocating for “assisted suicide.” The senator said: “Out of respect of who he is, I felt that he needed to have that time.”

“When he was only going to be able to get one minute, I knew there was things that he wanted to say that were important to the overall conversation,” McKay explained, in an interview on Feb. 12 in and around the Senate chamber. “It didn’t help my side, my view, but it’s not about my view, it’s not about my winning, it’s about making sure that all the information is out.”

The proposed legislation is named in part for the late United States Congressman Elijah Cummings, who served Maryland for decades in the State House and U.S. Capitol. His wife wrote a letter of support last year for similar legislation that did not become law in 2023.

House hearing scheduled for Friday on end-of-life legislation

Another hearing for the bill is scheduled to take place on Friday, Feb. 16 at 1 pm by Zoom. The joint hearing is held by the House of Delegates Judiciary and Health and Government Operations committee. Witnesses have two minutes to testify, according to Health and Government Operations committee guidelines.

Legislation must pass out of committees, be approved by both chambers, all before the state’s governor has a say.