The King James Bible is filled with memorable phrases, often lost in modern translations. A Corinthians verse asks, “O Death, where is thy sting, O grave where is thy victory?”

While these verses describe a spiritual victory over death, they came to mind as the state Legislature this week will consider a Death with Dignity bill that would allow terminally ill patients to be prescribed drugs to end their lives on their own terms.

Most of us barrel through life, not knowing when or where death will arrive and trying not to think about it. We will not escape it, or attain “victory over the grave” in a literal sense. But this proposal would could give terminally ill patients increased control over their manner of death.

The bill, LD 1313, has a public hearing in front of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee this Wednesday morning, April 10. Two of the co-sponsors, Sen. Geoffrey Gratwick, D-Bangor, and Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, are retired physicians and also co-chair that committee.

Always controversial, the proposal has been offered several times before. A similar proposal failed at a statewide referendum in 2000, but polls now indicate the public supports these measures by majorities around 70 percent. Conservative Christian groups such as the Christian Civic League are organizing to oppose the bill.

The bill, similar to legislation in Vermont, five other states and the District of Columbia, provides the option for terminally ill patients to obtain drugs that they could use to end their lives. Their prognosis must be confirmed by two physicians, who must also judge that the patient is of sound mind. Most important, nothing in the bill obligates a physician, or any health care provider or pharmacist, to participate in this process.

When a similar bill was presented in 2017, scores of people testified in favor of allowing terminally ill people the means to control their death. Former Sen. Roger Katz, an Augusta Republican and the bill’s lead sponsor, cited the experience of the six states who now have this legislation. He noted that in Oregon, in the 19 years since the bill was passed, 1,750 prescriptions had been written, but only 1,125 were actually used. For many people, simply having the drugs available provides comfort in knowing that they have an option if the suffering is too great.

Some who oppose these measures say that palliative care can assuage the agonies of all end-stage disease. But it cannot address the debilitating pain for some patients.

A central libertarian philosophy would hold that individuals should be able to make the most basic decisions about their health care, life and death. Legislators in Augusta should not prevent Mainers from having that choice.

This argument was made by someone Katz quoted in his testimony on the bill the Legislature rejected in 2017:

“If you want to fight to the last moment to cheat death, it is not my place to judge. But if you want otherwise, what possible business is it of the state of Maine to prohibit me from exercising my right to have a death with dignity?”

Portland resident Marian McCue is the former editor and publisher of The Forecaster.


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