ANNAPOLIS — Her body racked with pancreatic cancer, Annette Breiling’s mother informed her family one spring that she had decided to stop eating in hopes of accelerating the dying process.

But there would be 37 long days of fasting before her mother finally succeeded in bringing her life to an end.

“It was a horrible way to die,” said Breiling, of Ijamsville.

More than three decades later, she said, the memories of her mother’s suffering still bring tears to her eyes. And now, they are motivating her advocacy for an aid-in-dying proposal before the Maryland Legislature.

Breiling joined a small band of Frederick County residents who spent Wednesday seeking to persuade lawmakers to pass the legislation put forward by Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3, and Delegate Shane Pendergrass.

Young’s “death with dignity” act, patterned after Oregon’s law, would pave the way for terminally ill patients to secure lethal doses of medication from their physicians. The patient could then choose whether to take the medication.

“This bill will give people who have been given a prognosis of six months to live some control over the end of their lives,” said Pendergrass, D-Howard, during a Wednesday press conference. “They can’t stop the dying process. ... What they can do is have some control over when and how.”

Aid-in-dying proposals have gained new momentum through the advocacy work of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman who was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor and chose to end her life in Oregon last year. As a result, more than 30 states are introducing aid-in-dying bills this year, said Brandi Alexander, a regional campaign and outreach manager for the group Compassion and Choices.

A recent survey indicated that public support is behind the proposal. A Goucher poll released last week found that 60 percent of Maryland residents surveyed would support allowing terminally ill patients to secure lethal doses of medication from a willing doctor.

However, a coalition of religious and disability groups has formed against the legislation.

One objection to the proposal is that seriously ill patients would not receive the depression or suicide counseling that physicians would normally suggest, said Samantha Crane, director of public policy for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

“We are very concerned that physician-assisted suicide treats people with disabilities and illnesses as less worthy of interventions,” said Crane, whose group is one of those against Young’s bill.

The coalition also includes Not Dead Yet, the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Maryland Catholic Conference.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Pendergrass described numerous safeguards built into the bill. To qualify for aid in dying, patients must be competent adults who live in Maryland and are suffering from a disease likely to kill them within six months. Before a doctor could write the prescription, a patient would have to make three separate requests for it.

The patient would have to self-administer the medication. Doctors could decline to prescribe the lethal doses if they wish, Pendergrass said.

Pressuring a patient into requesting aid in dying would be considered a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, according to the proposal.

But Crane said these protections are by no means fail-safes. For instance, many people with a terminal illness end up living far beyond their initial prognosis.

“There is just no way for doctors to know that a person is going to die within six months,” Crane said.

Pendergrass said she is hopeful that the aid-in-dying proposal will succeed in the Legislature. It is unclear how Gov. Larry Hogan would respond to the bill’s passage; his spokeswoman on Wednesday indicated that the administration is tracking a number of bills, and Hogan will not express an opinion on them until “the appropriate time comes.”

However, in a candidate survey last year, Hogan told the Maryland Catholic Conference that he agrees with banning physician-assisted suicide and thinks “it should not be up to a doctor to assist patients in controlling the timing and manner of their death.”

Chris de Boinville, a Frederick resident who worked for three decades in hospice care, said he thinks patients should have more control over how they die.

“I think most human beings would like to be given the choice,” said de Boinville, who joined Breiling in Annapolis on Wednesday.

Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.

(30) comments

HappyMedium

There are plenty of people who live with debilitating pain that even steals your sleep, including myself, who are not terminally ill. It is a mistake to give pain more power that it really has, terminal patients have more fear than pain.

Nearly 70 million U.S. adults have arthritis or chronic joint symptoms— pain, aching, stiffness, or swelling in or around their joints. For people with arthritis, quality of life issues such as pain and loss of function are far more relevant than death because arthritis rarely kills.

Eugene

Comparing an individual with a terminal illness to suicide bombers is beyond absurd.

Nobody's being "sold" anything here, if one has personal or religious objections to this they can opt not to participate. No one should be able to force their own personal beliefs or biases on another in these cases.

How someone with a terminal illness chooses to end their life is a personal decision, and no one else's business.

HappyMedium

The bill of goods is the guarantee this will be a peaceful, painless death.

Experience proves otherwise.

A better solution is to make sure physicians have training in managing patient anxiety about end of life issues.

HappyMedium

Suicide bombers don't value either their own or other people's lives.

People who value life will provide the necessary care that allows people to continue through their natural life span.

cldeboin

Dear "Happy Medium",

To assume that a human being in intractable pain, with ABSOLUTELY NO
quality of life, and who has been told that their own life is extremely
limited, and, (in all likelihood) who's death is imminent is somehow
'glorifying" death or murder is absolutely absurd and insulting to both
the patient / family, as well as all current hospice clinicians or physician"s
who TRULY practice The Hippocratic Oath !!

HappyMedium

If you want to speak as an expert you need to state your qualifications.

Scanning patient files doesn't make you an expert on quality of life issues.

HappyMedium

Where there is life, there is hope.

Any nation or state that glorifies death will only find despair.

Case in point terrorists who utilize suicide bombers, are they happy.

Don't sell people a bill of goods, there is no guarantee physician assisted suicide will conclude with a peaceful, painless death.

shiftless88

It's time to do this; please pass it. If you don't want to use that option then don't, but I can imagine situations where I would want to and hopefully will have that option without moving to a different state.

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MAVRICKinc7

Didn't Dr Kovorkian cover this same subject year ago and was jailed for having assisted the end of life of those who wanted an end to their lives with dignity and not the slavish scripted messaging of religious thought? Religious sentiment is no longer in charge of the dialogue we challenge another with, close to the END of their lives, and by CONSCENTwith their God and not yours.

Comment deleted.
DickD

I have found they will sometimes put an article on the night before and the next day it has that current date. I think it is because FNP coniders it news for that date, as it is published the previous date. But, I am just guessing.

DickD

It is against my religion, but I support the bill so that those so unfortunate to consider suicide will have that option.

MAVRICKinc7

Why do we continue to attach SUICIDE to the conversation other than to support our emotional religious convictions. Only when we Stand in anothers shoes can we best judge the quality of life or lack of same from the point of view of someone seeking to be FREE from all the demands the living place on their lives. Isn't that how we started out in the BEGINNING...with FREE WILL and without the constaints man has placed on our lives through religious scripted jargon that can't see beyond a yet misunderstood message from God himself. Simply said, who are you to judge anyone that doesn't conform to your state of mind and scripted existence?

DickD

As I said, I am for it, in spite of my religion. But, I am not overly religious. I disagree with many of my church's opinions. I stay with them because they come closer than many other religions to my personal beliefs. I do believe in God, but that is not what I am looking at here.

bpsws

My mother opted to stop kidney dialysis two weeks before she died. She was ready for it to be over. My late husband said two weeks before he died, "I'm ready for this to be over." He never tried to walk again and was kept alive only by the IV fluids containing his morphine. I've said for many years that if diagnosed with only a few months to live, and If I am of no use to anyone and waiting to die, I'll opt for large bottle of Tylenol. I' glad that doing so legally might be an option.

quemzeee2

Thank you Mr. Young for bringing this forth. Long over due in America. Long overdue. And for any of you making comments against it. Good luck, I hope you end of living experiance never comes to the point that we have all seen for years.

cldeboin

In response to a previous question. Before I became a Medical Recotds Scanner, I did, in fact, provide direct patient care.
I witnessed many patients die a slow,
degenerative, and prolonged death. I saw firsthand the anguish of both the patient and their family .
This legislation is A LONG TIME IN COMING and deserves full and unquestioned suoport and passage.

HappyMedium

In what role did you have direct contact with patients.

Do you have any nursing or social work experience.

Dying impacts people who have no training harder.

I've watched three immediate family members through the end of life process.

cldeboin

I have worked in a hospice that started out with 4 patients/families in the entire program, and (retired) in June of 2014 when we maintained a daily census of
334.
I have been honored to be with all my patients and families as the their
physical presence transitioned from this life, and whose soul lives rem,wins
in the hearts and memories of those that the left here on Mother Earth,

HappyMedium

So are you saying you were a lay advocate.

neilarmstrong0322

How can this be? This paper posts on its homepage that this is "new" as of 2am on 3-5, it says that it was "Posted: Wednesday, March 4, 2015 11:45 pm," however there are comments from as early as 7:30pm on 3-4. HOW CAN THIS BE?!?!?!

Glen Shiel

It's the FNP, that's all that needs to be said.

MAVRICKinc7

DISTRACTION?

BstD59

Anyone who has ever witnessed the suffering of a terminally ill loved one knows that this legislation is needed. Only a doctor can prescribe a medication that will end their suffering and only when the patient requests it. We, all of us, have the right to die with dignity.

I strongly urge death with dignity legislation be passed.

Glen Shiel

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HappyMedium

Beautiful people die from terminal diseases and they leave a lasting impression on how we should enjoy the life we have.

Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon Computer Science Professor, died from metastasized pancreatic cancer after living five months longer than doctors had given him.

HappyMedium

Having access to patient records is not the same as having direct contact with patients. Do you have another expert to cite.

Chris de Boinville
Montgomery Hospice Medical Records Scanner at Montgomery Hospice
Frederick, Maryland Health, Wellness and Fitness

bizness

I applaud the effort to pass an aid in dying law. It's about time that Maryland (and the rest of the country) throws off some of its more uncivilized shackles. The amount of barbaric suffering that the religious right forces on people is unconscionable.

Sallyforth

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Glen Shiel

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