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Medical aid-in-dying Bill short on Votes, unlikely to pass Maryland Senate Committee

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

Legislators in Maryland have previously debated this matter, and some find it difficult to determine whether to let a medical professional assist in the deliberate killing of a terminally ill patient at that patient’s request.  

 HB 403 and SB 443 are the two versions of the measure that have been debated in committee hearings this year, but none has been put to a vote as of yet. Smith effectively set a deadline for the Judicial Proceedings panel members to make a judgment on Friday.  

 Members were given the weekend to consider their positions on the matter. The measure would not pass the committee if not enough members supported medical aid-in-dying; hence, the bill’s prospects of passing the legislature this year would be virtually eliminated.

Smith stated on Monday night that the bill would need “one or two” votes to pass his committee. Because this is such a contentious matter, it is doubtful that the legislation would be put to a committee vote during the 2024 session unless there is a significant change in direction.

In addition, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) stated he would not press for a Senate vote on the bill until he was certain there were enough votes in favor of it.

The House Health and Government Operations Committee is not expected to vote on the House version of the measure either, since the Senate committee is not expected to advance the matter.

It is unclear if the Senate committee’s deadlock would kill the bill for the remainder of the four-year parliamentary session, which concludes in early 2027.

Smith, who previously sponsored a measure along these lines in 2019, expressed his disappointment on Monday that the bill is stagnating. However, he also noted that medical aid-in-dying legislation is a “vote of conscience” and that changing someone’s mind on the matter is difficult.

Smith remarked, “I do respect each committee member’s time and attention.”

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

The proposal, which Smith introduced in the Senate in 2019, narrowly cleared the House before failing on the Senate floor due to a senator’s abstention from voting, which was against Senate procedure and resulted in a 23-23 tie vote.

Supporters of medical assistance in dying have expressed optimism that the bill will be passed in 2024; Ferguson himself had previously stated he thought there would be enough votes for it to pass the Senate this session.

Proponents of aid-in-dying legislation contend that individuals who are competent and suffering from agonizing, fatal illnesses ought to be able to get a prescription from their physician that will allow them to terminate their life.

Opponents of the legislation contend that it might lead to pressure on terminally ill individuals to take their own lives to relieve their loved ones of their burden. Some oppose it for other reasons, such as religious ones.

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