Maine House says no to physician-assisted suicide law

Posted May 31, 2013, at 3 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine House on Friday rejected a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to order lethal doses of medication from their doctors. The bill also would free doctors from legal liability for helping to end a consenting patient’s life.

House members voted 95-43 against the measure, which is sponsored by Rep. Joseph Brooks, an independent from Winterport. The bill next heads to the Senate.

Brooks’ bill, LD 1065, would allow a patient and his or her doctor to sign companion end-of-life care agreements. Those agreements would be signed after the two have discussed the patient’s medical condition and treatment options and the patient has rejected life-extending treatments and agreed to accept “care that is ordered or delivered by the physician that may hasten or bring about the patient’s death.”

The bill also would free doctors from criminal liability or the possibility of professional discipline for helping a consenting patient end his or her life.

The vote followed an emotional debate on the House floor in which lawmakers described their experiences caring for parents and friends as their lives ended.

Brooks said ill patients should be able to decide to end their lives when they can die in dignity.

“Dignity was important to this mill laborer,” he said of his father. “Had he been aware that he was lying in a hospital bed in the living room of his home not in control of anything, he would have probably said, ‘Please help me with this.’”

“How many of us have lost or seen others lose loved ones who linger painfully and unnecessarily for long periods?” asked Rep. Roberta Beavers, D-South Berwick. “We treat ill pets more humanely than we treat ill parents.”

But in letting doctors administer lethal doses of medication, the assisted-suicide bill would go too far, said Rep. Ann Dorney, D-Norridgewock. End-of-life care has changed for the better in recent years, said Dorney, a physician.

“We have very good end-of-life care. We have very good hospice care. We have very good palliative care,” she said. “I guess I’m not sure we need this bill.”

Dorney also worried about the prospect of a guardian who makes medical decisions for a patient making the decision to end that patient’s life.

Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, said she wouldn’t want to rob a patient of a natural end to life.

“I sat with my mom the last five days of her life. I slept in a wheelchair by her bed,” Sanderson said. “The night before my mother passed, my mother said, ‘It’s not like what I thought it would be.’ She said, ‘It’s peaceful.’ And I was very glad to hear that.”

The Maine House’s rejection of the physician-assisted suicide legislation came more than a week after Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a similar measure into law in that state. Vermont’s law was the first in the nation to be approved through the legislative process.

Physician-assisted suicide measures on the books in Oregon and Washington passed through public votes.

In Maine, voters rejected a physician-assisted suicide ballot measure in 1990.

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