Death with Dignity - Overview
Unitarian Universalists (UUs) have a long and powerful history of belief and action promoting Death with Dignity legislation. Back in 1988, way ahead of its time, UU General Assembly voted a resolution stating in part:
Guided by our belief as Unitarian Universalists that human life has inherent dignity, which may be compromised when life is extended beyond the will or ability of a person to sustain that dignity; and believing that it is every person's inviolable right to determine in advance the course of action to be taken in the event that there is no reasonable expectation of recovery from extreme physical or mental disability… Unitarian Universalists <should> inform and petition legislators to support legislation that will create legal protection for the right to die with dignity, in accordance with one's own choice.
Each of Unitarian Universalism’s Seven Principles offer support for providing end of life options, allowing for individual choice. People make choices within the options available to them- that is how they craft their dignity and worth. Dignity is not a matter of surviving as long as possible, receiving supportive care (e.g., being fed or toileted when you are no longer able to do these things for yourself), refusing supportive care (refusing to be fed when you can no longer feed yourself), being able bodied or dying “with your boots on.” Dignity is achieved by doing what you can, what you choose, with the choices available to you.
Compassion leads us to offer the full range of options for end of life care and choices around dying. The full range of options includes state-of-the-art medical support provided to all (universal health care) through superb hospice and palliative care, and moves to aid in dying. Compassion for others is one reason that as many choices at the end of life as possible must be made available.
We are not accepting one another if someone can determine how someone else will die. Limiting options at the end of life, and most assuredly imposing choices of any kind is the opposite of accepting one another. Spiritual growth can come out of the deep reflection needed to decide how you want to die. Thus limiting end of life options can limit this aspect of spiritual growth. Some might conclude that they personally believe that the use of fewer resources at the end of life is a responsible choice given the interdependent web.
The Maryland legislation that was introduced in 2015 and 2016 and will be re-introduced in 2017 is based on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. The Maryland bill, like the Oregon Act will allow terminally ill state residents to obtain and use prescriptions from their physicians for self-administered, lethal medications.
To request a prescription for lethal medications, the bill will require that a patient must be:
- An adult (18 years of age or older)
- A resident of the state
- Competent (defined as able to make and communicate health care decisions)
- Diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months
- Able to self-administer the medication
Patients meeting these requirements will be eligible to request a prescription for lethal medication from a licensed Maryland physician. To receive a prescription for lethal medication, the following steps must be fulfilled:
- The patient must make two oral requests to his or her physician, separated by at least 15 days.
- The patient must provide a written request to his or her physician, signed in the presence of two witnesses.
- The prescribing physician and a consulting physician must confirm the diagnosis and prognosis.
- The prescribing physician and a consulting physician must determine whether the patient is capable.
- If either physician believes the patient's judgment is impaired by a psychiatric or psychological disorder, the patient must be referred for a psychological examination.
- The prescribing physician must inform the patient of feasible alternatives to physician aid in dying, including comfort care, hospice care, and pain control.
- The prescribing physician must request, but may not require, the patient to notify his or her next-of-kin of the prescription request.
Last year’s bill was not voted upon by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and was withdrawn for lack of support. We hope that our efforts in 2017 will be able to finally have it approved by both houses.