AUGUSTA – House lawmakers rejected a bill on Tuesday that would have allowed doctors to prescribe fatal doses of medication to terminally ill patients who want to end their own lives.

The bipartisan 85-61 vote against the bill followed lengthy and oftentimes emotional debate among lawmakers sharing personal stories of watching loved ones battle terminal diseases. The so-called “death with dignity” bill had passed the Maine Senate by a single vote last week but faced a potential veto from Gov. Paul LePage even if it had passed the House.

“My conscience tells me that this is the wrong direction for a variety of reasons,” said Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner. “This is not a partisan issue. It is a human issue.”

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, the bill would allow patients with an “incurable and irreversible disease” and whose life expectancy is six months or less to request a fatal dosage of prescription drugs. The individual would have to make the request on two separate occasions separated by 15 days and, after the second conversation with the doctor, to put the request in writing witnessed by two unrelated, independent individuals. The physician, in turn, would be obligated to document those requests as well as the patient’s medical prognosis.

The bill, L.D. 347, would also provide liability protection to doctors and pharmacists who prescribe or dispense the drugs but would not allow anyone else to physically assist in the administration of the drugs.

“I think this proposal has been thoughtfully crafted and allows the peace of mind that we can have control over our own life,” said Rep. Christopher Babbidge, D-Kennebunk. “Just as you and I have control today, we don’t surrender it at the end of life. It’s about freedom.”


Supporters talked about watching friends or family being forced to endure long and painful deaths because Maine is not among the five states, plus Washington, D.C., that allow a practice sometimes described as “physician assisted suicide.”

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, recalled a close friend of his who chronicled his own battle with terminal, aggressive colon cancer and his ultimate decision to end his life. Although a native Mainer, the friend lived in Washington – one of the “death with dignity” states – and was able to choose the time and place of his death with his family around him.

“Ethan died, in the end, in the way he chose to die,” Berry said. “Because he did not live in his home state, he had the choice.”

But opponents warned that allowing physician-assisted suicide could lead to an increase in elder abuse or a spike in youth suicides if the state is perceived as sanctioning ending one’s own life.

“These bills are sold as having a voluntary patient choice, however there is no physician present when these pills are taken,” said Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea. “How do we know there is choice at the end when they self administer? I think we would be naive to imagine that every family is perfect and there may not be an occasion for an alternative motive, an inheritance or financial gain.”

Rep. Chad Wayne Grignon, R-Athens, recalled how his opinion on the issue was changed after his own cancer diagnosis at age 39. Grignon said even proposing the option of assisted suicide to someone suffering from pain and disease could affect their will to fight the disease.

“Ten years ago, most cancers, including the one I now have, was a death sentence,” Grignon said. “Today, with technology, those (prospects) are changing. We come into this world in pain, screaming and fighting for air. I believe this is part of the natural order. I plan on leaving without a government-sanctioned option of leaving early.”

The bill could face additional votes but is likely to die between the two legislative chambers.


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