Baltimore Sun ignores religion ghosts in Maryland debates on 'death with dignity' bill

Baltimore is the kind of place where a Super Bowl ring does grant someone a certain level of moral and cultural authority.

Thus, I was not surprised that Baltimore Ravens executive O.J. Brigance, a linebacker and special-teams star in the team's first Super Bowl win, was asked to testify during the legislative hearings on a proposed "death with dignity" law in Maryland. Also, I was not surprised that The Baltimore Sun decided to lead its report on these hearings with this unique man's testimony.

However, I was surprised that Brigance -- one of the most outspoken Christians on the Raven's staff (click here for previous GetReligion posts on this) -- did not say anything about his faith during his testimony. Or, perhaps, the members of the Sun team were anxious to avoid the Godtalk during the debates about this hot-button moral issue?

First, here is what readers were told about Brigance:

On Tuesday, testifying with a machine that replaced the voice taken from him by ALS, the former linebacker told Maryland lawmakers that his most significant feat came after he grieved over his degenerative condition and decided to live.
"Because I decided to live life the best I could, there has been a ripple effect of goodness in the world," Brigance said. "Since being diagnosed, I have done a greater good for society in eight years than in my previous 37 years on earth."
His testimony came during an emotional hearing in Annapolis on a proposed "death with dignity" law, a measure that is named in honor of Richard E. "Dick" Israel, another prominent Marylander with a neurodegenerative disease. While Israel is spending his final months fighting for the right to end his life, Brigance says his terminal disease brought meaning to his.

And also:

Brigance, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2007, urged lawmakers not to sanction death for people facing terminal illness.
"The thought that there would be a legal avenue for an individual to take his or her own life in a moment of despair -- robbing family, friends and society of their presence and contribution to society -- deeply saddens me and is a tragedy," said Brigance, who is currently the Ravens' senior adviser to player development.

Would some readers know the faith elements in Brigance's story? Yes. Would all readers know that? Of course not. We are left, of course, with what your GetReligionistas call a religion ghost.

Moving on to another ghost. This story did state the obvious early on, noting that this issue has "divided lawmakers" into two camps, which the Sun chose to frame as "those who see granting the terminally ill a choice to die as an act of compassion" against "those who view it as devaluing the patient's remaining days."

Now, is there evidence that religion actually played a role in this debate? Of course there is.

In fact, all one has to do is note -- in this one news report -- the religious arguments that the Sun team mentions, but then jumps over without elaboration. For me, it is crucial to note that Maryland is, of course, a traditionally blue, Democrat-led state with deep and historic Catholic links. It is also a state in which African-American churches play a crucial role in the Democratic Party coalition.

But let's stick to the Catholic angle this time. Consider this reference to the state's new GOP governor:

Maryland is among 15 states weighing "death with dignity" bills this year, a wave of legislation prompted by the advocacy of 29-year-old brain tumor patient Brittany Maynard. Maynard took her own life under Oregon's right-to-die law last fall.
On Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan said he would consider signing such a bill based on its merits, and said his Catholic faith is "not going to have anything to do with" the decision. During the campaign, he told a Catholic organization he did not support physician-assisted suicide.

Later on, there was another reference to legislators wrestling with doctrinal issues, on the other side of the political aisle:

Maryland banned physician-assisted suicide in 1999, part of nationwide tide that followed the infamy of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Physician-assisted suicide is a felony in the state.
The proposal has split lawmakers along partisan lines, with few Republicans expressing support. A Feb. 24 poll by Goucher College found 60 percent of surveyed residents supported the bill. House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, both Democrats, have said they wrestle with the teaching of their Catholic faith as they consider what would make good public policy.

OK, I'll ask. What does the Roman Catholic Church teach about euthanasia? I think it's safe to assume that most readers know that the church is opposed. But why? If this is such a crucial element of the debates, why not include a few sentences on the highly nuanced Catechism teachings on this consistent-life-ethic issue? These teachings are not hard to find.

Also did any clergy testify? The Respect Life office of the Archdiocese of Baltimore was silent? What about progressive Jews and mainline Protestants in support of the bill?

Finally, you know that a merely "political" issue is raising crucial moral and religious issues when a story includes a passage such as this one:

During more than two hours of testimony infused with personal anecdotes from lawmakers and prominent former politicians, advocates told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that Maryland's proposed law would empower patients to take control of their final days.
"I don't think this is a religious argument," said Sen. Ron Young, a sponsor of the bill. "It is a personal choice. ... No one else can judge their pain and suffering."

Just saying. The Sun editors should have covered the ghost in the room or, at the very least, not have taken such pains to edit the religion angles out of their coverage.

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