In 2008, Geraldine Lloyd, a Frederick artist, writer and activist, was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a disease that attacks her body’s bone marrow. In 1993, she was told by doctors that she had stage three throat cancer caused by years of smoking, and again in 2004, cancerous cells were found inside her lungs.
For the last 23 years, Lloyd said her day-to-day life has been a mix of ongoing tests, chemotherapy, surgeries and doctors visits. She’s had 16 surgeries in that time, she said. Her larynx was removed after her throat cancer diagnosis, and she now speaks with an electrolarynx, which she holds beneath her chin. Her first two diseases are in remission.
Lloyd is among a growing number of local residents who are supporting death-with-dignity legislation that has already been passed in three states and is set to make a repeat appearance in the Maryland General Assembly early this year.
Frederick County Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3, and Del. Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, will join other lawmakers in a renewed effort to pass it during this year’s legislative session. The bill is expected to be introduced on Jan. 26.
A similar proposal last year garnered 47 total co-sponsors — more than any other similar bill in the country since the nonprofit national group Compassion and Choices took up a nationwide effort to expand end-of-life choices in 2015, according to the organization.
Lloyd told her story to a group of residents on Sunday at the Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center in Frederick. She spoke on behalf of Compassion and Choices, which is again advocating for the legislation.
“I don’t want my life to end under a series of constant tests,” she said. “I want a better way, a way to come to death on my own terms.”
The new bill is modeled on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which was implemented in 1998. It would allow a terminally ill adult who is mentally competent to request and obtain a prescription that can be self-administered to bring about a peaceful and humane death should the person’s suffering become unbearable. The patient must be diagnosed with no more than six months to live.
Opposition to the bill last year centered around religious beliefs, fear that people could end their lives based on a false diagnosis or depression, and fear that the bill could lead to terminally ill Marylanders being pressured by others to end their lives.
Maryland was one of 25 states, along with the District of Columbia, that considered death-with-dignity legislation in 2015, according to the Department of Legislative Services.
Samantha Crane is director of public policy for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and a board member of Not Dead Yet, a nonprofit that opposes assisted suicide. The network advocates for people with muscular disabilities such as multiple sclerosis and spinal muscular atrophy. Crane testified against the Death with Dignity bill when it was being discussed in the House of Delegates last year.
Crane said that there have been countless cases in which patients have been given a six-month terminal prognosis from their doctors but have lived far past what was expected. Studies have shown that patients in states with assisted suicide laws have also been shown to suffer from depression. They often internalize negative feelings about their disabilities, she said.
A recent study by the Oregon Public Health Division showed that more patients who underwent assisted suicide cited their loss of autonomy and the burden on their family and friends as larger reasons for their decision than their physical pain.
A total of 1,327 people have had Death with Dignity Act prescriptions written, and 859 patients have died from ingesting medications prescribed under the DWDA since it passed in 1998, according to the study.
“Being a burden is something worse than death to them,” she said. “And it’s very, very easy to feel like a burden.”
Kaili Van Waveren, lead coordinator for Compassion and Choices in Frederick County, said that the new bill has several steps in place to make sure that a patient is of sound mind before receiving a prescription.
Each patient is required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, she said. At least two doctors must determine that a patient has less than six months to live, and the person must be physically able to mix the medicine and drink it himself or herself, she said. In the United States, the average person has about a 1 in 5 chance of getting a terminal disease, she said. An even larger number will know someone who will have a terminal disease.
“All of us are going to have a terminal disease or know someone who will,” she said. “This is what I would want for myself if I was terminally ill.”
Sen. Ron Young told the audience that the new bill is still being drafted and that he’s working to collect votes. Republican opposition to the bill is almost unanimous, he said, and it will be difficult to collect enough votes to override a veto from Gov. Larry Hogan. Hogan, who is Catholic, has not supported the bill in the past.
Lloyd said she believes that those suffering with a terminal disease should be given the power to choose for themselves. They, after all, are the people suffering, she said.
“I wouldn’t wish what I go through every day on anyone,” she said. “I don’t mean that as self-pity, but there is a power and dignity in giving people a choice.”