Maine Death with Dignity Leads Effort to Offer Humane Option for Life’s End
Augusta, March 20, 2018—A petition by Wiscasset-based Maine Death with Dignity to place an assisted dying measure on the 2019 ballot is in the final stage of approval by the Secretary of State’s office. 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.
A press conference to launch the initiative will be scheduled for mid-April at the State House.
“Mainers should not have to move out of state to die in a way that is right for us,” said Valerie Lovelace, Chair of Maine Death with Dignity’s Steering Committee. “It is time 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. It’s time Maine voters had their say.”
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 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.
“The Oregon law has been implemented carefully and worked exactly as intended for nearly 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.”
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 without assistance.
- 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, and our nation’s capital.”
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; 207-370-2268; 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.