ANNAPOLIS — In a political whirlwind on Thursday, Sen. Ron Young withdrew a bill that would have allowed terminally ill Maryland residents to legally end their lives with drugs prescribed by a doctor.
Young’s announcement came just before a planned vote in a Senate committee, which was expected to reject the bill.
The move throws the fate of a cross-filed House bill into question.
Delegate Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, the House sponsor of the bill for the past two years, said she wasn’t sure Thursday afternoon if the withdrawal meant the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee would still consider the measure if it passed through the House.
“I’m not closing any options yet. I need to understand the options before I close anything off,” Pendergrass said.
The same committee often hears both a House and Senate version of a bill as it makes its way through both chambers.
Young, D-District 3, has said the bill, which has about 65 percent support in polls of Maryland residents, has enough support in the General Assembly, just not in key committees.
“I think it would pass the floor [in the Senate] and it would pass the floor [in the House], but the judicial committees hold it up every year,” Young said Thursday afternoon.
The bill would allow mentally capable, terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to obtain a lethal dose of prescription drugs to ingest themselves at the end of life.
Support within the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee was clearly shaky at a hearing Feb. 25.
Committee members questioned Young for more than an hour about the particulars of the bill. Young was unable to address all of their concerns, at one point stating that he hadn’t read the bill “for a couple of weeks.”
Afterward, an email from one of his staff members indicated that the hearing “didn’t go well.”
Young said the probing by committee members was a legislative tactic to derail the bill.
“Very frankly, I think most of the specific issues that were brought up were total garbage. They were ... against it and they started picking,” he said.
Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, said at the hearing he was “in the middle” on the issue, and could vote in favor of the bill if it were amended.
Committee members suggested amendments that would have required mental health screenings before a person could receive a prescription, or suggested that the bill be narrowed to patients with a shorter prognosis, around two or three months to live.
As word spread on Thursday that Young would withdraw the bill before the committee voted against it, Brochin said Young “should try accepting amendments and then we might vote for it.”
Young said that was a way of deflecting opposition to the bill.
Had such amendments been accepted, “we would have lost everyone else,” Young said.
Withdrawing the bill, rather than letting it be voted down, might preserve efforts to keep the bill alive this year through the House version, Young said.
The measure also stalled last year, but supporters met in a work group over the summer and made changes to the proposed bill.
Many who opposed the bill — including some religious organizations and groups representing people with disabilities — questioned the morality of legalizing a form of suicide.
Supporters of the bill, which also included some religious organizations, said it would give people dying in pain a humane and personal choice for how to die.
“It’s hard for me to imagine why anybody would want to deny someone the choice,” Pendergrass said Thursday. “It’s very hard for me to comprehend that. I try.”
Young originally said Thursday morning that he wouldn’t likely introduce the bill again next year. Later, he said he thought it over and will continue trying.
“I am going to bring it back. I’m going to bring it back every year and have them sit through the hearings,” with the hope of changing lawmakers’ minds, Young said.