Delegate Tony McConkey's Official Blog

Don’t Put Granny To Sleep, Maryland Assisted Suicide

maryland-assisted-suicide

UPDATE 2017: The bill was reintroduced and also withdrawn before a vote was made in either chamber. Hopefully this will be the end of the effort for at least the near future.

Mar 3, 2017 – Maryland Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill Withdrawn From State Senate – CR
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UPDATE – It was announced today, Thursday March 3, 2016, that the bill was withdrawn in the Maryland Senate, killing the legislation for 2016

Maryland assisted suicide advocates are again before the legislature working to get the State of Maryland to sanction assisted suicide. The bill that was withdrawn last year for a lack of support, has been repackaged for another run at passage through the Maryland General Assembly. Read a legal analysis of the bill.

Aug 11, 2016 – Calfornia Woman Holds Party Before Doctor-Assisted Suicide – Trib
Mar 9, 2016 – The Wise Old Owl: Don’t Put Granny To Sleep – SPV
Mar 3, 2016 – Effort To Legalize Assisted Suicide Fails
Mar 3, 2016 – Senator Withdraws State Sanctioned Suicide Bill – Sun
Mar 2, 2016 – Sponsor Says Doctor Assisted Suicide Bill Unlikely To Pass – Post
Jan 27, 2016 – Euphemism And Subterfuge Fog Physician Assisted Suicide – Rptr

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The Wise Old Owl: Don’t Put Granny To Sleep
By Danielle Sagée, Severna Park Voice

“Don’t put granny to sleep” — these are the words that appeared in black letters on a yellow button worn by Delegate Tony McConkey on Friday, February 19, to express his opposition to legislation who would legalize physician-assisted suicide in Maryland.

That Friday, many supporters and opponents of the controversial End of Life Options Act described during the first hearing of House Bill 404 at the Maryland General Assembly the pain and suffering of family members and friends. While some advocated the right to die with dignity in comfort and peace, others expressed concern about doctors’ imprecise prognoses about remaining time to live and premature decision-making to choose ending one’s life.

As it stands, this legislation (known as Bill 418 in the senate) allows a primary care physician to prescribe lethal medication to a mentally sound but terminally ill patient who has six months or less to live. The essential criteria for obtaining the deadly prescription are as follows: A second doctor must confirm with the primary care doctor a patient’s meeting the requirements of being mentally sound and terminally ill as outlined in the legislation; two people (one a non-relative) must serve as witnesses to the prescription request; a patient must request the medication three times – twice verbally and once in writing – and doctors must inform a patient of alternative options, such as hospice and palliative care (aimed at pain management, not a cure).

However, there does not seem to be an extensive safety net to prevent abuse. To address that issue, McConkey, who was not at the first hearing of House Bill 404, has proposed an amendment to require the second doctor to be independent of the first doctor prescribing the lethal medication.

Incredibly, there is no requirement to inform any family member of a patient’s decision to end his or her own life, and there is no requirement for doctors to screen for depression. A patient may pick up the lethal prescription at a local pharmacy, as if it were high blood pressure medicine, and self-administer. No member of the medical profession, not even a technician, and no independent witnesses are required to observe administering of the medicine.

The ethics of the bill are even more troubling, especially to those who believe “you shall not kill” applies not only to other people but also to one’s self. This legislation raises profound questions relating to the sanctity of life and to jurisdiction regarding the taking of life. Does government have the right to allow one human being to help take the life of another in matters of terminal illness and unbearable pain?

Powerful organizations oppose the legislation: the National Council on Disability, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, American Nurses Association, American College of Physicians and the American Medical Association. They must be consulted and their objections must be voiced.

Perhaps the most moving argument has come from parishioners at St. Mary’s of Annapolis during that first hearing when they said, “We need to find better ways to take care of people, not kill them.”

Written primarily for seniors, this column offers insight about almost every aspect of life: family, society, education, relationships, values, spirituality, etc. Sagee, who holds a Ph.D. in rhetoric and linguistics, is a 25-year veteran of college teaching.

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Euphemism And Subterfuge Fog The Physician Assisted Suicide Movement

Commentary by Greg Kline For MarylandReporter.com

One of the most contentious issues to be debated during this year’s General Assembly session will be the renewed effort to legalize physician assisted suicide. After withdrawing a bill last year, proponents, led by Del. Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, have renewed their efforts in this year’s General Assembly session.

Proponents of physician assisted suicide often claim that they want an honest debate on this issue and insist that if people knew the true facts they would prevail. However, their entire movement is shrouded in euphemism and artifice.

We can start with the main engine driving this movement not only in Maryland, but throughout the country. An organization calling itself Compassion and Choices was formed in 2007 as the successor to the more honestly named Hemlock Society.

The Hemlock Society

The Hemlock Society, named as a reference to the famed suicide of Socrates, was founded in 1980. Its founder, Derek Humphry, stated that any assistance in one’s suicide should not be a crime and that alternate views of the “dying process” “must not trump the autonomy of the dying person’s own decisions.”

Dr. Jack Kevorkian embodied this radical view of “autonomy” and the right to suicide. After Kevorkian’s public actions, in defiance of Michigan laws among others, states like Maryland affirmed their laws against assisted suicide. It is little wonder then that the current physician assisted suicide movement seeks to rebrand itself to move past its Kevorkian past.

Likewise, proponents of physician assisted suicide seek to avoid the term “suicide” itself. According to the Compassion and Choices website, what they propose is not physician assisted suicide at all even though the bill specifically allows a physician to prescribe a lethal dose of medication that a patient self-administers to end their own life. Such absurd semantics are beyond Orwellian and demonstrate the fundamental lack of candor of this movement.

Falsifying the cause of death

This absurd distinction is embodied in the legislation as well. In last year’s version, as in similar bills introduced throughout the nation, doctors were required to put the cause of death as something other than suicide on the death certificate. The legislation mandated that even though a patient died as a result of an overdose of medication administered by themselves to end their own lives, the doctor must put the cause of death as the underlying terminal disease with which they were diagnosed.

Such an “unsuicide” would make Orwell proud.

Even the name of the bill has been rebranded. Last year the legislation was titled the “Death with Dignity Act” and included the names of two prominent citizens, who have since passed away. This year, according to press reports, the legislation will be more euphemistically titled the “End of Life Option Act” removing any reference not only to suicide, the “end of life option” being advocated, but of death at all.

Increasing suicide rates

And it is little wonder that proponents of physician assisted suicide want to avoid engaging the issue of suicide directly. If they did they would have to respond to inconvenient facts like the recent study of the Southern Medical Journal finding that states that legalized physician assisted suicide saw an overall increase in the rate of suicide in the adult population, independent of those seeking physician assisted suicide. This documented “suicide contagion” comes at a time when our nation has seen an increase in the national adult suicide rate from 1999 to 2010 of nearly 30%.

Proponents of physician assisted suicide also want to avoid discussing the impact on the physician patient relationship such laws create. Major medical organizations from the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians and the American Nurses Association, oppose physician assisted suicide. Medical professionals often cite the dictates and the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath, the ancient promise made by doctors entering the profession, in their opposition.

Oath against poisoning

The oath provides, in part, that a physician will take care that their patients suffer no hurt or damage and that, “Nor shall any man’s entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so.”

Obviously, no doctor taking such an oath could prescribe a patient a lethal dose of medication with the intent to poison them to death. This breach with ancient medical ethics is why so many medical professionals and organizations oppose this legislation. It was also a major reason cited by dozens of state legislatures and the British Parliament when these bodies overwhelmingly rejected similar legislation.

In response, Compassion and Choices claims that “Debates about the origins and relevance of the Hippocratic Oath are ongoing in the medical community.” They advocate a more nuanced and “modern” view of the doctor-patient relationship in which doctors not only keep patients alive longer but help them end their lives as they wish.

Raising serious questions

All of this raises some serious questions. If advocates of physician assisted suicide are on the “side of the angels” and their cause is just, why must they rely upon such mendacity? If advocates truly want an honest debate in which all the facts are disclosed, why must they employ such Orwellian language? If physician assisted suicide is morally right and consistent with our culture’s highest values, why does it require a rewriting of millennia old medical ethics?

Opponents of physician assisted suicide, like the honestly named Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide, welcome an honest debate on this issue. We welcome a true and thorough airing of all the facts in plain language and without euphemism or subterfuge. We are eager to discuss the fundamental values we want our culture to embrace.

Such an honest debate here in Maryland will result in the defeat of this measure yet again this year.

Greg Kline is a founder and senior editor of RedMaryland.com as well as the general manager of the Red Maryland Network. Greg is also an attorney practicing in Severna Park. He can be reached at Gregory.Kline@gklinelaw.com or 410-541-6384.

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