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Medical aid-in-dying bill short on votes, unlikely to pass Senate committee

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Medical aid-in-dying bill short on votes, unlikely to pass Senate committee

Feb 26, 2024 | 9:40 pm ET
By Danielle J. Brown
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Medical aid-in-dying bill short on votes, unlikely to pass Senate committee
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Maryland lawmakers supportive of a medical aid in dying bill hope to pass such legislation in the 2024 legislative session. Getty Images.

A controversial bill for medical aid-in-dying, which would allow qualifying terminally-ill patients to prompt their own death with the help of a physician, will likely be stalled for a least another year, as some senators “continue to wrestle” with the issue, Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith (D-Montgomery) said Monday night.

The issue has come to Maryland lawmakers before, and some find it hard to decide whether to allow a physician to aid in the intentional death of a terminally-ill patient at the patient’s request.

While both versions of the bill, SB 443 and HB 403, have been discussed in committee hearings this year, neither has come to a vote yet. Smith on Friday essentially gave members of the Judicial Proceedings panel a deadline to make a decision.

Members had the weekend to figure out where they came down on the issue. If there were not enough members supporting medical aid-in-dying, the bill would not make it out of the committee, essentially ending the bills’ chances of going through the legislative process this year.

As of Monday evening, Smith said the bill would be “one or two” votes shy of passing in his committee, and with such a controversial issue on the line, unless there is a dramatic turnaround, the measure is unlikely to receive a committee vote during the 2024 session.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) has also said he was not going to push for the bill to come to a vote in the Senate unless he was sure there were enough members in support.

With the Senate committee unlikely to move the issue, the House Health and Government Operations committee will likely not vote on the House version of the bill, either.

Whether the impasse in the Senate committee kills the measure for the rest of the four-year legislative term, which ends in early 2027, remains to be seen.

As a former sponsor of similar legislation in 2019, Smith said Monday he was “very disappointed” that the bill is stalling, but he also said that medical aid-in-dying legislation is a “vote of conscience” and that it’s challenging to try to sway someone’s belief on the issue.

“I do respect every member of the committee’s time and attention,” Smith said.

Smith’s comments on the progress of the bill marks another unsuccessful attempt to pass medical aid-in-dying in the Maryland legislature. So far, 10 states and Washington, D.C. have passed similar legislation

In 2019, when Smith carried the legislation in the Senate, the bill passed narrowly in the House and then came to an end on the Senate floor when one senator chose not to vote at all, in violation of Senate rules, leading to a 23-23 tie vote and the bill’s demise.

Medical aid-in-dying supporters have been hopeful that 2024 would be the year it passes, and even Ferguson previously said he suspected there were enough votes for it to pass in the Senate this session.

Supporters of aid-in-dying laws believe that people with painful, terminal illnesses — and who are of sound mind — should be able to obtain a prescription from their doctor enabling them to end their lives.

Some opponents believe such measures can create pressure on people with serious illnesses to end their lives, to avoid being a burden on loved ones. Others object on religious or other grounds.