UPDATED: March 4, 2015 4:42 p.m.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Alexa Fraser’s 90-year-old father Alex suffered from advanced Parkinson’s disease. He injured himself in painful falls and struggled to eat and drink. On Wednesday, while rallying for right-to-die legislation in Maryland, she described the difficulty her father had in ending his life last year on his terms, finally succeeding with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
He first took an overdose of pain pills, but they didn’t work. Then, he tried to cut his wrists, but he no longer had the dexterity. Finally, he suggested obliquely to her last summer that he would use the gun he kept by his bedside table.
“It was terribly sad, terribly hard and I felt respect. I felt loving,” Fraser said. “I felt it was what I needed to do to treat him as a mature, competent adult living completely consistently with what he said he would do.”
A measure before Maryland lawmakers seeks to stop the kind of difficulties Alex Fraser had in ending his life. The bill would allow adults given only six months to live the ability to get a prescription for drugs to hasten their death.
“It gives them some semblance of control,” said Del. Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, who is sponsoring legislation, along with Sen. Ron Young, D-Frederick. “They can’t stop the dying process. That’s not an option. What they can do is have some control over when and how.”
To qualify, an adult patient must be given a terminal diagnoses from their physician. It would be up to the patient to use the prescription. Pendergrass said her bill requires the patient to make three requests.
“The person, the patient, must do this by himself or herself,” Pendergrass said.
Leading lawmakers in the Legislature have left the door open to a bill passing this session.
“It could get wings late in the session,” House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said Wednesday.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, told reporters in January he would watch the progress of the bill in the House. Miller, a Catholic, said that while his religion says he should be opposed to it, he said doesn’t look with disfavor on the idea.
A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan says he does not have a position on the bill.
The Maryland Catholic Conference has joined a broad-based coalition against the legislation. Opponents say it’s nearly impossible to predict whether someone has six months or less to live. They say that’s among the most compelling reasons to oppose the bill. Critics also say the bill does not require doctors to give patients a screening for depression before providing the prescription.
Washington, Montana, New Mexico and Vermont are the only states that have made it legal for terminally ill people to hasten their deaths. More than half of the nation’s states have legislation pending. The issue received national attention last year when Brittany Maynard, an Oregon woman diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, decided to take her own life with prescription drugs and used her scheduled death to advocate for more acceptance of the idea.
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