Sen. Patterson: I’ve Made Up My Mind on ‘End of Life Options Act’

Activists outside the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Friday afternoon. The panel was considering legislation called the End of Life Options Act. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

With a Senate committee spending the entire afternoon Friday taking public testimony on a “death with dignity” bill, a lawmaker who caused a stir by declining to vote on a similar measure in 2019 said he has made up his mind.

Sen. Obie Patterson (D-Prince George’s) was in his seat on the Senate floor when the chamber took up the “End-of-Life Options Act” last March, but he didn’t cast a vote.

He told reporters he couldn’t make up his mind on the hotly-contested measure, which backers maintain would give people with painful, fatal illnesses the right to obtain drugs from a doctor that they could use to end their lives and their suffering.

Because of Patterson’s indecision, the measure died on a tie vote — 23 lawmakers in favor, 23 opposed. The House of Delegates approved a similar bill last year, 74-66.

On Friday, he said he is prepared to vote up or down — though he would not disclose his decision.

“I know what I’m going to do. I just don’t want to reveal it at this point,” the lawmaker said. “I need to keep it sacred.”

Sen. Obie Patterson (D-Prince George’s)

Patterson is in his second year in the Senate after serving three terms in the House of Delegates along with a stint on the Prince George’s County Council. He is also the chairman of the board of trustees of Fort Foote Baptist Church in Fort Washington.

He said his office has been inundated with mail and phone calls from activists on both sides of the issue — mostly in opposition. Opponents of the “End of Life Options Act” say the legislation would put pressure on people with serious illnesses and disabilities to end their lives to relieve the burden on loved ones.

“I’ve never witnessed anything like it,” he said of the lobbying.

Even if Patterson votes for the measure, supporters appear to be one vote short in the Senate. Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-Baltimore County), a yes vote in 2019, retired in November. She was replaced by Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County), a former delegate who voted no in 2019.

On Friday, dozens of activists jammed into the Judicial Proceedings Committee’s meeting room, with an overflow crowd gathering in the hallway.

Backers of Senate Bill 701 wore yellow T-shirts that said “compassion and choices: care and choice at the end of life.” Opponents wore green buttons that read “No assisted suicide.”

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.