The Rev. Joseph Kitchen is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden.

How do you want to die?

Studies show that about 80 percent of people would prefer to die at home. But only about half of Americans die while receiving home hospice services.

History shows that one way to increase the odds of people dying at home is to enact laws that allow mentally capable, terminally ill adults to have the option of medical aid in dying.

Medical aid-in-dying laws require doctors to advise terminally ill adults who request this end-of-life care option to peacefully end their suffering if it becomes unbearable about the full range of end-of-life care options, including hospice and palliative care. As a result, they improve the quality and utilization of home hospice care and end-of-life care overall, benefiting both the more than 99 percent of terminally adults who don’t end up needing medical aid in dying and the fewer than 1 percent who do and use it.

More than two decades after Oregon medical aid-in-dying law went into effect, the state leads the nation in hospice enrollment. More than 90 percent of individuals who used medical aid in dying were receiving hospice services when they died, and more than 90 percent of these people died at home.

That’s why I plan to testify in support Maryland’s medical aid-in-dying bill, the End-of-Life Option Act (SB 701), at a hearing before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Feb. 28.

Last March, the Maryland Senate fell just one vote short of passing a heavily amended version of the bill the House of Delegates approved in February. The prospects for passing the bill are better in 2020 because of new Senate leadership and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) statement at the Jan. 8 Annapolis Summit that he’s “willing to look at both sides of that issue.”

Four states have authorized medical aid in dying since 1997: Montana (via a state Supreme Court ruling), Oregon, Vermont and Washington state. Collectively, these 10 jurisdictions represent one out of five U.S. residents (22 percent) and have decades of combined experience successfully implementing this medical practice without even one documented case of abuse, coercion or fraud.

In short, there is more than enough data and evidence from these jurisdictions to show that Maryland lawmakers should end the debate on this compassionate legislation and pass it into law.

I grew up as the son and stepson of Baptist ministers before becoming one myself. There is no biblical doctrine anyone can stand on to oppose this bill. What you will hear from those opposed to this bill won’t be biblical, it will be traditional. Don’t let them confuse the two.

Sadly, in far too many of our churches, we are being given a version of a vengeful, repressive God.

I don’t know that God. My God is loving. My God is kind. My God is compassionate. My God is freeing. My God is liberating.

Too many faith leaders, including those from my church, have developed this myth that the God we serve is limited. He isn’t. They will preach a version of an all-knowing God who foresaw terminal illness but won’t acknowledge one who would deliver solutions.

I urge our lawmakers to take note of the wise words by archbishop emeritus of Cape Town and a Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu wrote in a 2016 Post oped: “In denying dying people the right to die with dignity, we fail to demonstrate the compassion that lies at the heart of Christian values. I pray that politicians, lawmakers and religious leaders have the courage to support the choices terminally ill citizens make in departing Mother Earth. The time to act is now.”

WaPo link to Op-ed