Maryland lawmakers aren’t yet ready to allow terminally ill patients in the state to choose when to die.

Efforts to legalize medical aid-in-dying have fallen short once again in Annapolis.

“If the votes aren’t there, the votes aren’t there,” Senate President Bill Ferguson said Friday as he announced that the bill will not come up for a vote this year.

“We are not going to be taking a vote on the bill this session, as it does not appear we have the votes to pass it in the Senate,” Ferguson said, acknowledging that the bill could be considered in the future “when we think there’s a better chance of passage.”

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The issue has been brought to Annapolis for a decade and the effort came ever-so-close to passage about five years ago.

The House of Delegates approved the measure after a lengthy, emotional debate in 2019. But when it came time for a vote in the Senate, the bill failed in a dramatic tie vote with one senator who was present opting not to vote at all.

Proponents had hoped that the elections in 2022 would change the roster of lawmakers in Annapolis enough to give the bill a better chance. The measure didn’t come up for a vote in 2023, but Senate President Bill Ferguson signaled an interest in advancing the bill this year.

“That will come up for a vote this year,” Ferguson told The Baltimore Banner in January, ahead of the start of the session.

But in the end, Ferguson said, the votes just weren’t there to support the measure.

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“If the votes aren’t there, the votes aren’t there,” Senate President Bill Ferguson said of his decision not to bring the End of Life Options Act up for an official vote. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Ahead of the General Assembly session, House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones told The Baltimore Banner that the bill would not move forward in the House as long as the fate in the Senate was unclear.

What is the sense in “putting in something that’s going to have a repeat of what happened?” asked Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat.

The proposal would have allowed Maryland residents who are likely to die within six months to request a prescription for drugs that they could take to initiate their death.

The bill has variously been called “end of life options,” “death with dignity,” “aid in dying,” “medically assisted suicide” and “physician assisted suicide” over the years by different groups on both sides of the issue.

Ten states and Washington, D.C., have laws in place allowing doctors to write prescriptions for lethal medication that qualified patients can take. And about 19 states have been considering such laws this year, according to a nonpartisan analysis of Maryland’s legislation.

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The bill had a number of requirements, including that the patient must make both oral and written requests with witnesses, and have a 15-day waiting period between the requests, a confidential meeting between patient and physician, a confirmation of the terminal diagnosis by a second physician, a possible mental health evaluation, proof that the patient can administer the medication themselves and extensive documentation.

No doctor would be required to prescribe the medications to patients, and health care facilities could prohibit participation in aid in dying.

Opponents of medical aid in dying expressed relief that the practice would not be legalized in Maryland this year.

“People who want to have full autonomy to end their life must do it on their own without the help of anyone, especially the medical professionals we rely on to help us stay alive,” read a statement from the Dignity Mandate, a nonprofit organization that’s one of the groups opposed to the bill. “No law should expect medical professionals to offer suicide as a ‘medical treatment’ for illness.”

Dr. Joe Marine, a Johns Hopkins cardiologist and leader with a group called Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide, said he was pleased that the legislature isn’t moving forward with “such a dangerous and flawed bill.”

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“We should be helping people live their lives to the fullest while coping with severe illness and disability,” Marine wrote in a statement. “Making high-quality, ethically-grounded palliative, pain-management, and hospice care more accessible to Marylanders is what legislators should focus on, not giving doctors a license to take life with a prescription of poison.”

Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide’s membership includes some medical and religious organizations, including the Maryland Catholic Conference and the Baltimore Jewish Council, as well as advocates for people with disabilities.

Advocates with Compassion & Choices, a group supporting the bill, expressed frustration that the measure has failed again.

“Every year, I attend funerals of terminally ill advocates who desperately plead with lawmakers to pass this compassionate legislation and then they die in needless agony because they didn’t pass it,” said Donna Smith, the group’s campaign director for Maryland.

“I’m obviously very disappointed, but you have to respect the decisions of the individual senators,” said Sen. William C. Smith Jr. of the failure of the End of Life Options Act. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Sen. William C. Smith Jr., who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee that considered the bill, said that while lawmakers expressed general interest in the bill, when it came time to vote, some found that they had unresolved reservations.

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He estimated the measure was one to two votes short in the 11-member committee.

“I think that as folks got closer to the vote and had more in-depth conversations with their constituents, folks just expressed unreadiness to move on it at this time,” said Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the bill in the past. “I’m obviously very disappointed, but you have to respect the decisions of the individual senators who are listening to their conscience.”

Not every bill in Annapolis gets a vote in committee, and it’s more common for bills to fail by not getting a vote at all rather than being voted down.

Ferguson said that given the sensitive nature of the subject, he didn’t want senators with reservations to be tied down with a “no” vote this year, when they might consider being a “yes” vote in the future.

“Once it’s on record, it makes it more firm,” Ferguson said. “And this is one that, in time, things may change with more education and discussion. It’s best just to know that it’s not happening this year.”

Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, said earlier this week that he would sign the bill into law if it made it to his desk — but also that he respected the legislative process.

“This is a very difficult and challenging issue,” he said.

Baltimore Banner reporter Brenda Wintrode contributed to this report.

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County.

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