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DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


April 11, 2005

General Assembly Journal 2005 - Part 13

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The House of Delegates passed the Medical Decision Making Act of 2005 last Thursday. This is the bill that gives two people, regardless of gender, who are in a mutually interdependent relationship in a common residence, the right to make medical and end-of-life decisions for one another.

Whew! Too many words, arranged in such a way as to make it tough to figure out what it means.

Here's the plain language meaning using two real-life situations.

1.) A 65 year-old couple lives together, but because of Social Security benefit issues, decide not to marry. They'd both been married before, lost their spouses, but find it comfortable and peaceful to maintain a relationship like this. One of these two loving people develops Alzheimer's, but the symptoms arise quickly. Hospitalization is necessitated before the other partner can execute both an Advanced Directive and Durable Power of Attorney. That partner will not automatically be afforded the right to make decisions for their loved one, and may be completely excluded from involvement in the process.

2.) A gay couple has lived together for 12 years. They'd discussed the Schiavo case, and understood the benefits of both a living will and a power of attorney. One partner is driving home from work, and is involved in a traffic accident. He is rushed to the hospital, and is placed on life support. Later that night, the surviving partner is notified of the accident by a neighbor. He rushes to the hospital, but is refused permission to visit his partner. The hospital strictly enforces a visitation policy, one that precludes non-family or legal visitation. His partner dies of injuries sustained in the accident, while he argues at the front desk about his right to see his partner.

Both of these situations have really occurred, and can occur right now in Maryland. So along comes an innocuous little bill called the Medical Decision Making Act of 2005.

This same bill was here last year, went through public hearings, was passed by the House of Delegates, and died in the Senate during the Sine Die run-up. It was controversial last year, with gay rights advocacy groups lined up against conservative and faith advocacy groups.

I voted for the bill, both in committee and on the floor. I took some shots from my colleagues, and received some very unfriendly (and decidedly un-Christian) email from the faith community.

I'm a big boy, so while criticism (especially the personal variety) hurts, it isn't ever fatal. That measurement will come in 2006, when I have to defend my record before the voters of District 3B.

This year, the level of rhetoric is terribly damaging, coming from both sides. Not only that, but a number of delegates who voted for the bill last year are now opposed to it, and it is essentially the same bill as last year. I've struggled to figure out why, and here's my conclusion:

Since last year, we essentially held a national referendum on moral issues. The Bush/Kerry race divided our nation along social and moral questions. Also, several states held a referendum on the question of marriage definition.

Every state that held a vote on marriage heard overwhelmingly from voters that marriage should be between a man and a woman. There was no question on that, even in moderate or liberal states.

So why would I, a life-long Republican, vote to extend this new "right" to a gay couple? Why would I jeopardize my political career over an almost no-brainer social issue?

Because I'm human, that's why. I am neither qualified nor capable to pass judgment on the lifestyle, choices, or morals of another human. In my theological beliefs, there is only One who can make those judgments.

I have a gay cousin. I love him as much as I do my other cousins (and with eight aunts and uncles on my Dad's side, there are a bunch of cousins to love). I also have a number of friends that are gay, and I know even more elderly couples that live together in a loving relationship without being married.

So, how do I decide where I am? I read every bit of testimony during and after the bill hearing. I listened carefully to every person that testified, both for and against the bill. I read every letter and email I receive, not just those from my district.

I speak to others from my committee, the Republican Caucus, lobbyists, and I even stood at the back of both a Gay Rights and a Christian Coalition Rally to hear the various speakers.

This collection of information would fill several binders, and even more brain space for the verbal testimony. Once collected and collated, this information is blended with 47 years of life experience, including childhood and adult religious indoctrination, a good public education, and family wisdom.

I should tell you that I was the only Republican in western Maryland to vote for the bill. I think Del. Don Elliott (R., Frederick/Carroll) might have supported the bill, but an emergency appendectomy had him in North Arundel General, not on the floor.

When this is all done for me, whether in November of 2006 or at a point in the future beyond that, all I have to fall back on is that I voted according to my conscience, that I treated my time in the Maryland General Assembly with dignity and honor, and that I did my best to make Maryland a better place for future generations.

My vote on the Medical Decision Making Act is an example of the struggle to do the right thing, whatever that might be!

Next week's edition is the year-end wrap-up, since Sine Die is tonight, April 11th.



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