Once again this year, the Maine Legislature is considering a death with dignity bill (LD 1313) to allow terminally ill people to request life-ending medications from a physician under very strict conditions.

It should pass, probably won’t, and we’ll keep chewing on it until the law catches up with public opinion.

A 2017 poll found that 87% of Maine residents agreed with the statement that “patients should be allowed to die in as humane and dignified a manner as they see fit.” Seven states – California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington – have legalized death with dignity and some two dozen are considering similar laws.

Q — So what’s the hang-up?

A — Obstruction by meddlesome medical and religious institutions that have come to monopolize death and dying. It is time to take back our deaths.

If you read the public testimony given at the April 10 hearing in opposition to LD 1313, you will find the kind of well-meaning meddling that keeps Maine from doing the will of the people and enacting this compassionate legislation.

The Christian Civic League of Maine called LD 1313 “doctor-prescribed death.”

“Passage of this bill would place our elderly, terminally ill and disabled persons at grave risk,” the Maine Right to Life Committee warned. “Their lives would be deemed ‘less valuable’ than others. For them, the ‘right to die’ could quickly become the ‘duty to die.’”

“For the Church, there is no distinction between defending human life and promoting the dignity of the human person,” the Roman Catholic Diocese stated. “As a gift from God, every human life is sacred from conception to natural death.”

Beware anyone who claims to know the will of God.

Sadly, the Maine Hospice Council and the American Nurses Association of Maine also testified against the bill.

“There is absolutely no need to enable suicide to prematurely end a person’s life,” said an ANA-Maine representative, “when hospice-care providers, the nurses and social workers and care givers, are trained to provide excellent end of life care.”

Beware people out to protect their turf.

The Maine Medical Association rightly punted.

“Whether to establish in Maine law a pathway for physician-assisted death,” reads the MMA’s statement on physician-assisted suicide, “is a policy-making decision for Maine voters and their elected officials to make.”

Exactly. So let’s make it.

Having watched my mother and father die, I know full well that health-care providers already assist in the dying process. Call it palliative care or hospice care, when you place a fentanyl patch on a 90 year old woman who weighs 70 pounds, at best you are assisting death.

I wish my mother had had the option proposed by LD 1313, even though she probably would not have taken advantage of it. I know I want that end-of-life option for myself, even though I can see that all the legal safeguards – written and verbal requests, waiting period, a second opinion – mean most people will not be in a position to exercise that right when the time comes.

My dear friend Phyllis, however, would have benefited greatly from LD 1313. Sick to death, she made the decision to stop eating on her 75th birthday. It took her a week to die.

At one point near the end, Phyllis regained consciousness long enough to say, “If this is dying, it’s not that hard.”

But we could make it a lot easier if the professional moralizers and death meddlers would just get out of the way.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.


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