Two life issues are taking front and center for the Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC) as the Maryland General Assembly enters its final weeks of the 90-day session.
As The Catholic Review went to press, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien was expected to testify against the death penalty during a March 17 hearing in the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee.
Del. Nancy Stocksdale, a Carroll County Republican, was also expected to soon introduce a budget amendment designating that $18.4 million in Maryland spending on stem-cell research be limited to studies that exclude embryonic stem-cell research.
Mary Ellen Russell, MCC executive director, was disappointed that outright repeal of the death penalty seems unlikely this year, but was optimistic that the House of Delegates would follow the Senate’s lead and approve amendments to the original ban proposal. The amendments would require videotaped or DNA evidence before the state could execute someone.
“I think at this point, it’s clear to the sponsor, the governor and everyone who supports repeal that successful passage of the amended Senate bill is the best we can hope for this year and maybe even next year,” said Ms. Russell, noting that lawmakers will be unlikely to broach the controversial issue in 2010, an election year.
“The amended bill is a good measure to help ensure that an innocent person is not executed and is very worthy of support and should be seen as a step in the right direction,” she said.
Ms. Russell emphasized that the Catholic Church in Maryland will continue fighting for total repeal even if the compromise measure is approved.
“Our opposition doesn’t rest solely on the fact that there are racial and geographic disparities in the way the death penalty is applied,” Ms. Russell said. “We think it’s wrong to take another’s life simply for the purpose of punishment when we have an adequate means of protecting ourselves through life without parole.”
Nancy Paltell, associate director for the MCC’s respect life office, said she believes Del. Stocksdale’s amendment on stem-cell funding stands a very strong chance of passing the House appropriations committee.
“I’ve talked to committee members and 80 percent said it’s reasonable to make sure that the money is spent on research that’s working,” said Ms. Paltell, noting that research involving adult stem-cell research has resulted in medical treatments while embryonic stem-cell research has not.