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Maryland lawmakers again make push for physician-assisted suicide, seek referendum to codify abortion in state law

Thomas Kolar, a teacher at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, Md., displays a sign with his students during the Maryland March for Life in Annapolis Feb. 24, 2020. Hundreds of people rallied through the streets of the Maryland capital during the annual march, urging more state restrictions on abortion and opposing a bill that would make doctor-assisted suicide legal in the state. (CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)

By Gerry Jackson
Catholic Review (Baltimore)

Two bills that conflict directly with Catholic values and the protection of life are progressing in the Maryland General Assembly.

A bill that would legalize assisted suicide (SB0845/End-of-Life Action Act) was reintroduced Feb. 7 in the State Senate and a companion bill was expected to be introduced in the House. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18) of Montgomery County, essentially would legalize physician-assisted suicide in Maryland.

The Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide coalition has been leading the lobbying effort against physician-assisted suicide legislation since it was first introduced in 2020.

“The proposal is the same dangerous, misguided policy that has failed repeatedly in Maryland,” directors of MAPAS said in a news release. “The Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide coalition remains staunchly opposed to legalizing physician-assisted suicide (PAS) for the same array of concerns, which the bill’s proponents continue to ignore. The fact that the General Assembly is being asked to consider the same significantly flawed bill yet again shows that the out-of-state interests pushing their agenda in Maryland are out of touch with the people and leaders of our state.”

Dr. Marie-Alberte Boursiquot, an Ellicott City internist and past president of the national Catholic Medical Association, the largest national association of Catholics in health care, said she was disappointed the bill was proposed again.

“Physicians are trained to be healers and not the agent of harm to our patients. We are not trained to give ‘aid in dying,’” said Boursiquot, a licensed physician for more than 25 years in Maryland. “Assisting a patient in harming themselves is not an ‘end-of-life option’ in their medical care. We are trained to aid our patients in living their best lives and alleviating suffering to the best of our ability.”

She thinks the bill contains a number of flaws, including: placing the disabled, poor, mentally ill and minority groups at risk; creating a financial incentive for insurance companies and other medical plans to deny life-saving treatment; and potentially making a suffering patient feel that he or she is a burden.

“A physician can never act as an agent of death – neither indirectly (physician assisted suicide) nor directly as in the case of euthanasia,” she said. “Medications are designed to help our patients. The use of medication for any other purpose than that for which it was intended is an abuse of the medication.”

Dr. Joseph Marine, a professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who is part of the MAPAS coalition, said he has concerns about the legislation for patients and medical professionals.

“This bill will damage trust between doctors and patients and harm the culture of caring that we strive for,” Marine said. “I am concerned that patients will gradually see assisted suicide evolve from a ‘choice’ into an expectation.”

On another respect life issue, Speaker of the House of Delegates Adrienne A. Jones (D-10) of Baltimore County introduced a bill (HB705/Right to Reproductive Freedom) Feb. 6 that would set up a referendum for Maryland voters to decide whether to codify abortion into Maryland law. The bill would enshrine abortion through all nine months of pregnancy in the Maryland Constitution, according to the Maryland Catholic Conference, the public-policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops.

Last year, a similar bill made it through the House, but did not make it through committee in the Senate. This year, Senate leader Bill Ferguson (D-46) of Baltimore City introduced companion legislation, which signals a better chance of the bill coming up for a vote in front of the full legislature.

After the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade in its decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June, decisions on the legality of abortions were returned to states. Maryland already has some of the most permissive abortion laws in the nation, and the referendum, if passed, would prevent future legislation from restricting access to abortion.

Erin Younkins, director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Institute for Evangelization, said Catholics should do what they can to see that the bill doesn’t become law.

“This bill is flawed from its language to its logic,” Younkins said. “It is a dangerous and dramatic step, especially for a state that refuses to require the kind of data tracking that is required of all other medical procedures. Those who support this bill have done little if anything at all to ensure maternal health and safety and we know of many women who have been injured physically by abortion in addition to the inevitable spiritual wounds.”

Younkins said Catholics are called to cherish life from conception until natural death.

“The extremism of this bill protects abortion through all nine months, which we know is far beyond the gestational age that even most people who identify as pro-choice believe is acceptable,” Younkins said.  “As we heard in last week’s Gospel, we are called to be the salt of earth. It is imperative for all Catholics, even those who struggle with their position on abortion, to stand against a radical bill such as this. Enshrining abortion in our state Constitution through all nine months is an egregious affront to human rights.”

Email Gerry Jackson at gjackson@CatholicReview.org