October 19, 2019
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After close vote, Maine Senate sends ‘Death With Dignity’ bill to Janet Mills

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients narrowly passed the Maine Legislature after a Senate vote on Tuesday. It now heads to Gov. Janet Mills, who has stayed mum on the legislation.

The proposal from Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, would forestall a planned 2020 referendum from so-called “death with dignity” supporters on the issue that was rejected narrowly by Maine voters in 2000 and has been the subject of seven legislative efforts since 1992.

The Maine Senate passed the bill in a 19-16 vote on Tuesday and sent it to the Democratic governor for her signature. It was the subject of some of the most dramatic votes that the Democratic-led Legislature has faced in 2019, passing by one vote in the House on Monday.

In the Senate on Tuesday, all but two Democrats — Mike Carpenter of Houlton and Bill Diamond of Windham — voted for the bill. Sen. Marianne Moore of Calais, a co-sponsor of the bill whose father died of cancer and a cancer patient navigator, was the only Republican to support it.

Hymanson’s bill largely mirrors the language of the referendum effort that has largely been funded by the Death with Dignity National Center, an Oregon group that pushed the first-in-the-nation law passed there in 1997. Maine would be the ninth state to pass such a law.

It would allow people with terminal illnesses to get life-ending medication from a doctor after waiting periods, a written request and two oral requests, a screening for mental health conditions and second opinion from a doctor. Forging or coercing a request would be a felony.

“Death with dignity” laws have largely been opposed by social conservatives who argued that the protections in the law were insufficient and that it doesn’t account for advances in palliative care. Among the groups that worked against the bill were the Christian Civic League of Maine.

The bill now goes to Mills, who hasn’t taken a position on it. She said on Tuesday that she had been talking to interested parties and getting “up to speed on it.” While she was a state representative in 2002 to 2009, the Legislature never took up a similar bill.

As a district attorney in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties in 1990, she appealed a judge’s decision allowing the family of an 18-year-old in a vegetative state after a car crash to refuse to reinsert a feeding tube that kept him alive. Maine’s high court upheld the decision.

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