Ahead of Committee Work, Senate President Sees Narrow Passage for Medically Assisted Suicide

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) presiding over a floor debate earlier this week. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said Tuesday that he’s not likely to vote in favor of a medically assisted suicide bill, but he thinks the measure has the support to pass his chamber in a close vote.

“I anticipate a very, very close vote on the floor of the Senate,” Miller said.

While he’s leaning toward voting against the measure, Miller also still has concerns about the bill moving forward, including possible protections that would keep financial factors from influencing someone’s decision on whether to end their lives.

“One of the concerns is that poor people are using more,” Miller said. “…The allegations are that the poor can’t afford the medical care and they’re opting to end their life through this practice. We’ve got to make sure that’s not the case, that it’s a very informed decision.”

The bill, which passed the House of Delegates earlier this month by a 74-66 vote, would allow mentally competent adults who live in Maryland and are suffering from a disease likely to kill them within six months to secure lethal doses of medication from their physicians.

Before a doctor could write the prescription, a patient would have to make three separate requests for it, including one in writing, signed by two witnesses. The patient would also have to discuss her decision one-on-one with a doctor.

Physicians and pharmacists are not required to take part in writing or filling a prescription, but must transfer all medical records upon a patient’s request.

Miller anticipated there would be a series of tough amendments in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which must consider the bill before it reaches the Senate floor.

Judicial Proceedings Chair Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) said the committee would begin considering amendments on Wednesday.

He’s also interested in possible additional financial protections as well as an amendment that would require doctors to inform patients of all other options.

Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) briefly discussed with the bill sponsor, Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), possible additional protections to assess a patient’s psychological state.

Zirkin did say that the committee would work quickly through issues to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote before March 28, Smith’s last day in Annapolis this session. Smith, an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, has received orders from the Pentagon to deploy to Afghanistan for Operation Resolute Support on March 29.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has said he is conflicted about what he’d do if a physician-assisted suicide bill landed on his desk.

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