Medical aid in dying could soon be legal in Maryland through a state bill that would allow terminally ill adults who are deemed mentally capable to seek prescriptions for drugs to help them end their life.
The End-of-Life Option Act was first proposed in Maryland in 2015, but the 2023 legislative session marks the first year the bill has earned the support of the state’s governor. In January, Gov. Wes Moore endorsed medical aid in dying.
Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery County), the bill’s lead sponsor in the Maryland Senate this session, thinks Moore’s support will aid the bill’s passage. He also thinks the bill has a higher chance of passing this year following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding abortion last summer.
“What the Dobbs case made clear is that it’s up to state legislatures to ensure that bodily autonomy is protected from government interference,” said Waldstreicher, who is also the vice chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. “I believe to my core in the right of people to make choices about their body and the End-of-Life Option is part of that.”
Waldstreicher said his constituents overwhelmingly support the legislation.
Across Maryland, 71 percent of voters support the option of medical aid in dying, according to recent polling by Gonzales Research & Media Services. This is an increase from polls in previous years. The legislation found favor in both political parties with support from 75 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of Republicans polled.
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One Marylander advocating for the End-of-Life Option Act is Diane Kraus, a terminally ill occupational therapist who lives in Baltimore.
While working in hospice and cancer care, Kraus said she had numerous patients tell her that they were ready to die. Kraus’ own mother died from breast cancer. In her final days, her mother was fully mentally capable and miserable, Kraus explained.
“There’s only so much pain a person should have to endure,” she said. “They should have the decision of when to be done.”
Since moving to Maryland and being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021, Kraus has been working with Compassion & Choices, an organization working to expand access to medical aid in dying across the U.S.
Kraus shared her experiences and advocated for the End-of-Life Option Act at a news conference on Feb. 8.
“Allow me to have the option to have a death that is gentle and peaceful,” she said at the news conference. “Now is the time to pass this medical aid-in-dying legislation.”
Ten other states and Washington, D.C. have already enacted legislation similar to the End-of-Life Option Act.
After Brittany Maynard was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer, she and her husband Dan Diaz moved from California to Oregon so she could have the option to utilize Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. California did not legalize medical aid in dying until the year following Maynard’s death.
Before Maynard ended her life on Nov. 1, 2014, she used her final weeks to work with Compassion & Choices to advocate for laws like the one in Oregon to be passed across the country so that other terminally ill people do not have to move states to access medical aid in dying.
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Diaz, who has continued his wife’s advocacy after her death, traveled to Maryland to meet with state senators and help them understand the significance of the End-of-Life Option Act.
“I can’t fight for Brittany anymore. She’s gone,” Diaz said. “I’m fighting for the rest of us.”
Some opponents of medical aid in dying claim that the policy takes advantage of people with disabilities.
Jules Good is the assistant director and policy analyst at Not Dead Yet, an advocacy group that opposes medical aid in dying because they say the policy is a form of discrimination against people with disabilities.
“It’s all based around this idea that if you have a disability, your life is inherently less valuable than somebody who doesn’t have a disability,” Good, who has a disability, said.
Good thinks it is more important to advocate for policies that can make it easier for disabled people to live, thrive and be more comfortable at the end of their lives. These include expanding home and community based care options and high-quality palliative care.
“Being able to control exactly what happens to you at the end of life is a privilege reserved for people who don’t have to fight at every step of the way to receive care to live,” Good said.
Diaz said the End-of-Life Option Act will have no negative impact on vulnerable populations, like the elderly and disabled. To qualify for medical aid in dying, a patient must be terminally ill, mentally competent and able to self-administer the medication.
“This does not result in more people dying. This simply results in fewer people suffering,” Diaz said.
The End-of-Life Option Act will have hearings in the Senate on March 7 and in the House of Delegates on March 10.