Libertarian Party of Maryland endorses the Death with Dignity Act

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The Libertarian Party of Maryland endorses passage of a Death with Dignity Act in the coming spring session of the General Assembly of Maryland.

Introduced in the 2015 legislative session, the Death with Dignity Act’s core purpose is to allow a terminally ill adult resident of Maryland (those with a prognosis of six months or less to live) the freedom to choose to voluntarily take a prescribed dosage of medicine to aid in dying. The bill does not allow euthanasia, which would remain illegal. The bill contains significant procedural protections to ensure the individual is competent to make the choice, is making an informed decision, and is not subject to undue influence or coercion. We urge our supporters to take action to support this legislation as outlined below.

A person facing end of life decisions is confronted with an intensely personal choice, one at the very heart of the libertarian conception of self-ownership. Some may not agree with a person’s choice to expedite an inevitable death or with the morality of that choice. Still others believe it is the most moral of sentiments to exercise self-control in the process of their dying, to preserve their personal dignity. For libertarians, the key commitment is that the government should not prevent that individual’s choice with the force of law.

Though it may be renamed, the bill to be introduced in 2016 is likely to be very similar to the 2015 legislation, which you can read for yourself. Here are the bill’s key points:

Only competent, adult, Maryland residents who have a terminal illness can make this choice. The bill sets forth the means of establishing that these criteria are met, including a requirement that 2 independent physicians certify the diagnosis of a terminal illness, that the decision  is voluntarily undertaken (no coercion) and the patient is competent (no impaired judgment, including depression).

The patient must personally and voluntarily initiate the process (it cannot be done through an agent, guardian, or durable power of attorney) and can rescind their decision to proceed at any time. The patient does this by making 2 oral requests for the medicine, with the second request made no less than 15 days after the first request. During the 15 day waiting period after the first request, the patient must also fill out a written form requesting the medication, witnessed by two people (only one of whom can be a relative, be entitled to a benefit from the patient’s death, or a person associated with the health care facility in which the patient is receiving treatment). There is an additional 48 hour waiting period between the signing of the request form and the writing of a prescription by the physician. After 48 hours, the patient can receive the medication but is under no obligation to take it at that time. The patient must be capable of self-administering the medicine.

The bill protects individuals, including medical providers and institutions, from civil and criminal liability for participating in good faith compliance with the procedural and medical protections of the act. The bill also allows physicians, health care facilities, and individual employees of health care facilities to elect not to participate in such services.

The bill makes it a felony to alter or forge a written request for aid in dying or to conceal or destroy a rescission of the required written request for aid in dying with the intent or effect of causing the patients death. It is also a felony to exert undue influence on a patient to make a written request for the purpose of ending the patient’s life or to destroy a rescission.

Finally, a patient’s death is not a suicide and is deemed a death from natural causes. Life or health insurance benefits, annuities or other contracts cannot be conditioned or affected by making or rescinding a request for aid in dying and such contracts made after the law’s effect cannot include a limitation or otherwise attach consequences to such. Similarly, the rates charged for a life, health, or accident insurance or annuity cannot be conditioned upon making or rescinding a request for aid in dying.

The Libertarian Party of Maryland has joined with Compassion & Choices-Maryland, an issue advocacy group working to pass the bill. If you are interested in helping, we urge you to contact your legislators to urge their support. Please visit our Take Action page for assistance. In the spring there will probably be a lobby day where we’ll all lobby legislators together at once. Watch for updates for the scheduling of the lobby day and other public advocacy events. You can also write letters to the editor in support of the legislation. Finally, if you’d like to be more intensely involved in this legislative effort, please contact Eric Blitz at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

To learn more, you can review this Fact Sheet and Answers to Misconceptions about a Death with Dignity Law prepared by Compassion & Choices.