Eva Thompson has had both good and bad days since she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 2013.

Both of her children got married since then, and she’s taken several trips to Ireland with her husband. She’s an ordained interfaith community minister and delivers Sunday sermons when she can. After her diagnosis, and initial rounds of surgery and chemotherapy, she was even free of symptoms for seven months.

But the cancer returned and has metastasized. She’s still receiving chemotherapy, but worries about side effects and the dwindling number of treatment options available.

“Once the cancer came back in 2015, the trajectory was set,” said Thompson, 57, of Camden. “It’s just a matter of how much time you have left. I would say 2017 is likely to be my last year.”

Because she could face a slow, painful death, she’s supporting L.D. 347, a state bill that would allow dying patients to be prescribed lethal drugs to hasten their deaths if they so choose.

The “death with dignity” legislation, sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and announced at a news conference Tuesday at the State House, is similar to a Vermont law approved in 2013. It’s also similar to a bill that was rejected narrowly by the Maine Legislature in 2015.


Under the proposal, terminally ill patients who have been told by doctors they will die within six months could request medication to hasten their deaths. They would be required to make two separate spoken requests, at least 15 days apart, for lethal medication and sign a written request, among other steps. Two disinterested witnesses would have to sign that request, vouching that the patient understands it and does not appear to be under duress or undue influence.

Physicians and pharmacists would not be required to grant those requests, and physicians would not be allowed to end a patient’s life by lethal injection or other means.

“The premise of the law is simple: that a competent adult ought to have control of his or her life, generally free of government interference,” Katz said in an interview. “It’s a libertarian ideal that we honor in Maine in many ways. People have the right to make medical decisions for themselves and also have the right to refuse treatment.”

Two years ago, Katz’ death with dignity bill was defeated by the Senate in an 18-17 vote. It was opposed by various religious and medical groups, including the Maine Medical Association, which represents physicians and argued that helping someone die runs counter to a doctor’s code of ethics. Maine voters also rejected a right-to-die referendum proposal in 2000.


But several other states have passed “death with dignity” laws, including Oregon in 1997, and more recently Vermont, California, Colorado and Washington. Katz said he is reintroducing the legislation this year because he’s been encouraged by the experiences in other states.


“The biggest reason for optimism is we have two more years of experience of the bill being in place in other states, Oregon and Vermont,” Katz said. “It’s two more years of the law working well, of some people’s end of life being easier than it would be otherwise. That’s the major difference. And it only lost by a vote (in Maine) last time. It was close.”

In the 20 years that Oregon’s law has been on the books, 1,749 patients have been prescribed lethal medications, and 1,127 – 64 percent – used them to die, according to state data. Last year, Oregon doctors prescribed 206 lethal medications, 133 of which were reported used by patients.

Katz offered the statistic to show that not all patients who are prescribed the drugs use them. He also said there are safeguards in the law to ensure that health care providers aren’t required to prescribe the drugs, and that studies suggest doctors aren’t prescribing the drugs to patients who aren’t eligible.

Thompson, the Camden cancer patient, also spoke at Tuesday’s news conference. In an interview Monday, she said she’s not in a hurry to end her life, but that having the drugs would give her comfort as her condition deteriorates.

“I’ve known right from the time I was diagnosed, I don’t want to go to the end (experiencing) great suffering and misery and loss of independence and quality of life,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to have to spend time worrying about how the end will go and how much pain I will be in. I have limited time; having the drug on hand would be very reassuring, and once I had the drug, I could stop thinking about it.”



A public hearing on the death-with-dignity bill is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, and Katz said he expects several patients in Thompson’s situation to testify in support. A House death-with-dignity bill, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Parker, D-South Berwick, also is due for a hearing Wednesday.

At least one lawmaker, Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, has announced his opposition to the latest proposals. At his own news conference Tuesday, Davis was joined by Stephanie Packer, a California woman who has become an outspoken opponent of death-with-dignity laws. Packer has scleroderma, a debilitating disease that affects her lungs and that doctors have said is terminal.

Packer said Tuesday that her health insurance provider denied her coverage for a medical treatment after California passed its death-with-dignity law in 2015, but did offer to cover a prescription for lethal medication. She warned that a Maine law allowing doctors to prescribe lethal drugs could undermine hospice and palliative care, particularly for the poor.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has been a consistent opponent of death-with-dignity legislation, but a spokesman for the diocese did not respond immediately Tuesday to a request for comment.

In 2015, Suzanne Lafreniere, director of the office of public policy for the diocese, told lawmakers that a person’s life must be protected “at every stage and in every condition. … A law permitting assisted suicide would demean the lives of vulnerable patients and expose them to exploitation by those who feel they are better off dead.”

The Maine Medical Association, which represents Maine physicians, opposed the death-with-dignity bill in 2015 and the referendum in 2000.


The organization’s board will meet later this month to take a position on L.D. 347 and Parker’s bill, L.D. 1066, said Gordon Smith, the group’s executive vice president.

The association is surveying members about whether the group should continue to oppose physician-assisted suicide, and the results have been roughly split 50-50, Smith said.

“That always gives an association pause to say, ‘Well, gee,’ ” Smith said. “It’s one more piece of information.”

Even if the association ultimately does not take a formal position on the bills, Smith said, it will work to ensure they include protections for doctors.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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