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Testimony in Opposition to House Bill 30: "Health - Terminal Condition - Counseling"

By Nancy E. Paltell, Ph.D., Associate Director of Respect for Life

House Health and Government Operations Committee (01/27/09)

This statement is in opposition to House Bill 30.

The Catholic Church feels it is very important for a patient to receive compassionate care at the end of his or her life. Attached to this testimony is a document we have widely distributed, “Comfort & Consolation, Care of the Sick and Dying.”

We commend efforts to ensure that all patients with a terminal condition are informed of the option to enroll in a hospice care program. We acknowledge the possibility that this option could be overlooked by well-meaning health care professionals with a passion for curative treatments. However, House Bill 30, if enacted, could harm patients at a very vulnerable stage of life. The bill would facilitate the potential for untrained, unethical organizations to have access to patients, and would even mandate that physicians must refer patients to unqualified groups, groups that may not have the best interest of the patient in mind.

The bill’s mandated actions imply that terminal condition care counseling is of the utmost importance. Yet the bill sets a very low standard for who would be permitted to convey this counseling to patients. Apparently any organization that claims to specialize in terminal condition case management and consultation, or any organization that claims to specialize in terminal condition care and has a website, will be the recipient of health care provider referrals. There seems to be no prohibition against pro-suicide groups, such as the Hemlock Society, Compassion & Choices, or Final Exit Network, from being included among the organizations who would have increased access to vulnerable patients.

This bill is modeled after legislation recently enacted in California, bill number AB2747. Upon its passage, the Hemlock Society’s spin-off group, Compassion & Choices, had this to say in its celebratory press release: health care providers must now provide information about “refusal or withdrawing of life-prolonging treatments, voluntary stopping eating and drinking (VSED), palliative care and palliative sedation.” The press release stated that Compassion & Choices was a “sponsor of the measure.”

Patients weighing their options for end-of-life care need compassionate care. They need pain management, they need comfort and consolation, they might need treatment for depression. But they don’t need advocates for cost-cutting measures encouraging them to fulfill some imagined duty to die to free up a hospital bed. And while it is true that Maryland bans assisted suicide, Maryland law does not prohibit anyone from encouraging a person to commit suicide, nor does it prohibit an individual from encouraging another individual to allow passive euthanasia through the refusal of food and water. The government should not be enacting legislation that would facilitate such conversations.

We urge an unfavorable report for HB 30.