Grassroots Group Leads Campaign to Offer Option for Life’s End
Augusta, March 22, 2019—Maine Death with Dignity is urging the state legislature to pass LD 1313, an assisted dying bill. The Maine Death with Dignity Act, introduced by Rep. Patricia Hymanson (D-York) with a bipartisan group of co-sponsors in both legislative chambers, would allow adult state residents who have had two physicians confirm a terminal diagnosis to receive prescription medication to end their lives in a peaceful and dignified manner. A hearing in the Health and Human Services Committee is scheduled for April 10, 2019.
“In the past two sessions similar bills were hampered by those who wish to tell Mainers how they die,” said Valerie Lovelace, Chair of Maine Death with Dignity’s Steering Committee. “It’s time the legislature respected the majority of Maine voters who wish to have this end-of-life option.”
A similar law has been in place in Oregon since 1997, and today five other states—California, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, and Washington—and Washington, D.C. have similar statutes. In over 40 years of combined flawless implementation, the law has been used sparingly. In Oregon, fewer than 4 in 1,000 deaths in the state are under the law. A third of those who successfully obtain a prescription opt not to use it.
“If I’ve been perfectly capable my entire adult life of making my own informed decisions, why can I not make my last one?” said Lovelace. “LD 1313 is an important step toward providing Maine residents with the autonomy, freedom, and peace of mind that has been a godsend to dying patients in other states.”
A March 2017 Public Policy Polling survey of Mainers showed nearly 3 in 4 voters (73 percent) overwhelmingly support legislation expanding the right of terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to legally obtain prescription medication to end their lives. Support for an assisted dying law in Maine is bipartisan, diverse, and broad-based, with majorities of women (74 percent), men (73 percent), Democrats (84 percent), Republicans (59 percent), Independents (78 percent), Catholics (65 percent), Protestants (72 percent), religiously unaffiliated (96 percent), and voters of all ages (68 to 77 percent) all in favor of expanding the rights of the terminally ill.
Speaking in 2018, one voter, Camden resident Cayla Miller, said, “When my mom was dying from metastatic colon cancer, she desperately wanted to be in control of those final days. The right to make one’s exit gracefully before the pain and helplessness become unbearable should be a right we all have.”
The proposed LD 1313, Maine Death with Dignity Act, includes a lengthy list of safeguards to ensure the patient is acting voluntarily, does not suffer from impaired judgment, and is capable of taking the medication without assistance. Among the safeguards included in the bill are:
- A diagnosis of death within 6 months, the same standard as hospice.
- Two oral requests separated by a 15-day waiting period, and one written request witnessed by two people, one of whom must not be an heir or family member.
- Psychological evaluation should the physician suspect impaired decision-making.
- A second opinion of the diagnosis and mental health condition.
- Physician must share information about all forms of treatment and end-of-life care options, including hospice and palliative care.
- The patient must self-administer the medication.
- Patient may rescind request at any time.
- Healthcare professionals may refuse to participate.
“The Oregon law has been implemented carefully and worked exactly as intended for over two decades,” added Peg Sandeen, Executive Director of Portland, Oregon-based advocacy organization Death with Dignity National Center. “The time is right for Maine to adopt this law.”
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that Oregon is one of the best places in America for end-of-life care, with more people using hospice and dying at home than elsewhere in the U.S. Some 90 percent of patients who use the law in Oregon receive hospice care today. The availability of hospice care improved dramatically in Oregon once the law was passed. Oregon is also among the nation’s leader in successful palliative care.
About Maine Death with Dignity
A Political Action Committee, Maine Death with Dignity works to expand the rights of terminally ill patients to hasten their death with legally obtained prescription medication. Learn more at MaineDeathwithDignity.org, or contact us at PO Box 801, Wiscasset, ME 04578; (207) 240-3186; or info [at] mainedeathwithdignity [ dot ] org.