Maine Death with Dignity Leads Effort to Offer Humane Option for Life’s End
Augusta, April 19, 2018—Maine Death with Dignity has begun gathering signatures for a petition to place an assisted dying measure on the ballot. The law would allow adult Maine residents who have had two physicians confirm a terminal diagnosis to receive prescription medication to end their lives in a peaceful and dignified manner at a time and place of their choosing. The measure 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 by themselves.
“Last year and in 2015, Senator Katz’s Death with Dignity Act made its way through our legislature only to be 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 Maine voters had their say and for dying Mainers to have this end-of-life option. This law is full of safeguards modeled after the successful implementation of the law in other states.”
Camden resident Cayla Miller, the first Mainer to sign the petition, said, “Today I add my signature to this ballot measure for my mom, Eva Thompson, and for all those like her. My mom didn’t want to die but she was dying from metastatic colon cancer. She was in hospice and receiving numerous amounts of drugs but her quality of life was gone and 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.”
A similar law has been in place in Oregon since 1997. In 20 years of flawless implementation, the law has been used sparingly—only 1,275 times, which represents fewer than 4 in 1,000 deaths in the state. A third of those who successfully obtain a prescription opt not to use it. 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 leaders in successful palliative care.
“The Oregon law has been implemented carefully and has worked exactly as intended for 20 years,” said 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.”
Lovelace said she brought the Death with Dignity petition forward in the memory of Maine citizens all over the state from all walks of life and faith traditions who support having a Death with Dignity law.
“I promised to keep going until Mainers have access to the same end-of-life options that other states have approved and implemented flawlessly,” said Lovelace.
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.
- Two physicians must agree on the diagnosis, prognosis, and patient’s capacity to make decisions.
- Mental health evaluation required if either physician suspects impaired decision-making.
- 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.
A March 2017 Public Policy Polling survey of Mainers showed that 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.
“I want to have a say in my dying without the government or the church deciding for me,” added Lovelace. “This bill 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 California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, our nation’s capital, and soon also Hawaii.”
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 or info [ a t ] mainedeathwithdignity [ d o t ] org.
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Safeguards in the Maine Death with Dignity Act
The Maine Death with Dignity Act specifies a well designed process the patient and physician must follow to allow the patient to qualify under the law. The safeguards in the law include:
- Allows a terminally ill, competent, adult resident of Maine to request and obtain prescription medication to end their life at a time and place of their choosing.
- Requires the patient to initiate process with an oral request.
- Requires two oral and one written request from the patient. One of the two witnesses on written request must not be an heir or family member.
- Requires 15 day waiting period between oral requests.
- Requires the patient be a resident of Maine.
- Requires two Maine physicians to confirm the patient’s diagnosis, prognosis, and competency.
- Requires a mental health evaluation if either physician suspects depression or mental health issues causing impaired judgement.
- Requires the patient to self administer the medication.
- Requires the attending physician to counsel the patient on all forms of pain control and palliative care, including hospice.
- Allows the patient to rescind their request at any time.
- Allows any healthcare professional to opt out for any reason.
- Requires the disposal of any unused medication consistent with Maine statutes.
- Requires documentation on the patient’s chart, as well as reporting to the state Health Division.
- Requires the Health Department to issue an annual report.
- Does not invalidate insurance policies.
- Does not constitute suicide for insurance purposes.
- Cause of death is the underlying medical condition.
- Coercion or exerting undue influence is a Class A felony.
- Requires counseling the patient to inform family and have someone present when medication is taken.
- Requires the patient self-administer the medication.