Diane Rehm testifies for assisted-death bill in Maryland

Retired radio talk show host Diane Rehm is speaking in favor of a Maryland measure to allow the terminally ill to end their lives with a doctor's help, but opponents say it could enable vulnerable people who aren't terminally ill to kill themselves

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Retired radio talk show host Diane Rehm testified in favor of a Maryland measure to allow the terminally ill to end their lives with a doctor's help, describing the misery her husband suffered during his final days. Opponents, however, say the measure is dangerous and could enable vulnerable people to kill themselves, even if they aren't terminally ill.

Rehm, a former NPR host, has supported assisted-death legislation since her husband, John, died while in hospice care in Maryland 2014. She told a crowded hearing room filled with supporters and opponents that her husband felt betrayed that the law would not allow a physician to end his suffering, even though he only had months to live. His doctor told him he could stop eating and drinking, and that's what he did the next day.

"I sat by my husband's side day and night for 10 days as he slowly died," Rehm said. "You could see the agony expressed in his face, though he made no outcry and no request for water. But why did our laws infringe on an individual's decision to die peacefully when dying was inevitable within a few months?"

Paul Okerblom wore a sticker that read "No Assisted Suicide," as he and other opponents to the legislation listened outside the crowded hearing room. He said elderly people could choose to end their lives because they feel they have become a burden. Okerblom also said doctors can make mistakes in their prognosis, and he noted an example of that in his own family, after his mother-in-law was given six months to live two years ago.

"It has a slippery slope to it for sure," Okerblom said of the legislation.

The measure would allow adults to obtain a prescription for life-ending drugs, if a doctor finds they have six months or less to live. The physician must certify that the person has the capacity to make the decision, and the prescription can only be self-administered by the individual.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said he would take a close look at the bill, if the Democrat-controlled General Assembly passes the measure.

"That's an issue that is one that we're going to take a very close look at," Hogan told reporters Thursday. "I'll be honest with you, it's one that I really wrestle with from a personal basis. I understand the passion and concerns on both sides of the issue."

Supporters of the measure in Maryland have been trying for several years to pass the legislation, but the bill has stalled. Supporters are hoping the start of a new term with 60 new legislators may change the political dynamics this time. Also, supporters say they have increased safeguards to try to address concerns by opponents.

For example, a person would have to make three requests for a life-ending prescription from a doctor, and at least one of those must be made with the individual alone with his or her doctor.

Medically assisted deaths are legal in seven states, including California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington as well as the District of Columbia.