Maine’s History on Death with Dignity

Maine’s legislative efforts to expand end-of-life options for terminally ill adult residents began in 1994, ultimately leading to passage of a death with dignity law similar to the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.

Varying in focus, Maine’s legislative bills have sometimes supported different goals.  The lack of a consistent approach or message may be one reason Maine didn’t achieve success until the 129th legislature with LD 1313, the Maine Death with Dignity Act.

1994: LD 1420

LD 1420, if enacted, would have permitted competent, terminally ill adults to elect to receive a medically assisted death (via “a medical service that would end the life of a patient and has been requested and authorized.”).

The process would have become operative “when it is communicated to the attending physician and the declarant is determined by the attending physician to be in a terminal condition or persistent vegetative state as defined in section 5-701 and no longer able to make or communicate decisions regarding administration of life-sustaining treatment.”

1995: LD 748

If enacted, LD 748, An Act to Allow Physician Assisted Deaths with Dignity for Terminally
Ill Persons in Maine, would have allowed qualified terminally ill patients to use a legal process to request  life-ending medication to use at a time and place of their choosing. This bill was modeled on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.

1998: LD 916

If enacted, LD 916, An Act to Allow Physician-assisted Deaths for the Terminally Ill, would have allowed qualified terminally ill patients to use a legal process to request  life-ending medication to use at a time and place of their choosing. This bill was modeled on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.

2000:LD 2348

A citizen’s initiative, LD 2348, An Act to Enact the Maine Death with Dignity Act, was also modeled on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act.  The ballot question failed by a very narrow margin after opposition aired misinformation regarding delivery of the prescription medication.

2013: LD 1065

Sponsored by Representative Joseph Brooks, LD 1065, An Act Regarding Patient-directed Care at the End of Life, proposed a more liberal approach. Had it passed, the law would have allowed patients to declare a request for end of life that included an active euthanasia option described as “the decision to accept care that is ordered or delivered by the physician that may hasten or bring about the patient’s death.”

One week after Vermont passed Act 39, Maine’s LD 1065 overwhelmingly failed the House (43-95) and did not advance to the Senate.

2015: LD 1270

Based on Vermont’s law and sponsored by Senator Roger Katz (R), Kennebec, LD 1270, An Act Regarding Patient-directed Care at the End of Life, was the first successful attempt at a Death with Dignity law in the legislature, making history with House passage (76-70). The bill missed by a single Senate vote, 17-18. Senate Roll Call and House Roll Call

2017: LD 347

Senator Katz’s repeated attempt in the 128th legislature, LD 347, An Act To Support Death with Dignity, successfully passed the Senate by a single vote (with amendments carried from Representative Parker’s LD 1066, An Act to Promote life with Dignity.). LD 347 missed in the House (61 – 85) shortly after then-governor LePage publicly announced he would veto the bill. Senate Roll Call and House Roll Call.

2019: LD 1313

Sponsored by Representative Patty Hymanson (D), York, a retired neurologist, LD 1313, An Act to Enact the Maine Death with Dignity Act, included a number of additional safe-guards. The bill enhanced Senator Katz’s previous efforts and sent a clear, consistent message regarding Maine’s readiness for a Death with Dignity law. When LD 1313 passed, Maine joined Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado, Washington DC, Hawa’ii, and New Jersey as the 9th U. S. jurisdiction with a law, and the 10th recognizing end of life liberty for competent, terminally ill adults who qualify (Montana protects patient rights by state constitution.). Senate Roll Call and House Roll Call.

The Referendum Effort of 2018 – 2019

Initial language for LD 1313 was provided by Maine Death with Dignity’s referendum petition, An Act to Enact the Maine Death with Dignity Act, issued on May 7, 2018. Maine Death with Dignity, a grassroots volunteer effort, determined to pass a law and turned to the citizen’s initiative process shortly after LD 347 failed. Senator Katz and Representative Hymanson helped grassroots leaders draft the initiated bill, and upon Representative Hymanson’s re-election in November of 2018, she decided to attempt one more legislative effort prior to the initiated bill going to ballot.

Between June 2018 and April 2019, Maine Death with Dignity gathered over 77,000 (72,079 valid) Maine voter signatures for the initiative (only 63,067 were required). The group prepared for submission to the Secretary of State’s office while LD 1313 made it’s way through the legislature during the spring of 2019.

The Legislature Effort

Representative Hymanson’s bill passed the House, 72-68 on May 28, 2019. It followed in the Senate on May 31, 2019, passing 19-16.  On June 3, 2019, debate over the bill began anew for the final reading, causing both chambers to vote again for enactment.  When the dust settled, LD 1313 passed the House, 73-72. In the final Senate hearing on June 4, 2019, the bill passed as before.  The bill was sent to Governor Janet Mills for signature and she signed it into law on June 12, 2019 after a brief period of deliberation.

Less than 7 days later, opposition filed a citizen’s veto application with the Secretary of State’s office.

The Maine Death with Dignity Act went into effect on September 19, 2019 after the veto effort failed to gather the required number of signatures for submission.

The State of Maine worked diligently under an executive order from Governor Janet Mills to ensure that emergency rules to support the new act were in place by September 19, 2019.

And the rest, they say, is history.