September 17, 2019
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Death with dignity is about restoring power and choices at the end of life

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Gov. Janet Mills speaks at an event in the Hall of Flag at the State House in Augusta in this file photo.

State lawmakers have passed legislation allowing terminally ill Mainers, under very strict restrictions, to end their own lives. The so-called “death with dignity” bill now awaits Gov. Janet Mills signature.

The governor says she has concerns about the bill and is not sure she will sign it. “Gov. Mills recognizes that this is a deeply personal and moral issue for many people – one that transcends politics,” her spokesman Scott Ogden told the Bangor Daily News. “It is her goal to ensure that she hears arguments both in support and in opposition to the bill as she considers her own decision.”

We appreciate the governor’s hesitancy on this deeply personal and emotional issue, but she should sign this legislation into law. A death with dignity law would likely be used by few people, but for those people and their families, it is vitally very important.

Talking about death is one of the most difficult conversations we can have, which is evidenced by the close votes on the LD 1313. For many, the difficulty comes from a feeling of powerlessness.

News Center Maine anchor Cindy Williams took the brave and unusual step Wednesday of talking about death. Specifically, she spoke on air about her mother-in-law, Mary, and her painful and agonizing death.

She spoke out, she said, because “my conscience demands it.”

Her mother-in-law was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer when she was 82.

“She was the most independent and dignified woman I have ever met … she lived her life on her terms, but she was not allowed to die that way,” Williams recalled.

She asked every doctor she met to give her alternative to “withering away.” She pleaded with her family to take her to Vermont or Oregon, states with death with dignity laws, but it was too arduous for non-residents.

Instead, Mary starved to death over the course of 10 days in hospice.

“Mary deserved the right to make choices about how she exited this world,” Williams said. “Instead, she was powerless, forced to follow someone else’s predetermined plan for how her life would end.”

“The process of dying killed her spirit long before it took her soul,” Williams said in the powerful commentary.

Mary was far from alone in wanting more control over her dying. The majority of Maine people want a higher level of control over their final days, including the ability to obtain medication to end their lives if they are diagnosed with a terminal illness. In a poll two years ago, nearly three-quarters of Mainer supported allowing terminally ill patients to obtain life-ending medication. There was majority support across religions, political affiliations and ages.

LD 1313 is very detailed in terms of who would be allowed to self-administer medication to end their life and sets up a specific process that must be followed. A qualified patient must have been diagnosed with a terminal disease that will result in death within six months. Two doctors must confirm that the patient meets the requirements of the law. It includes several consultations and waiting periods. The patient must make three requests for life-ending medication, one in writing that must be witnessed by two people, one of whom is not related to the patient.

The attending physician must discuss other options, including palliative care and comfort care, hospice care, pain control and disease-directed treatment options. A patient can rescind a request for life-ending medication at any time. This bill also allows physicians, pharmacists and others who object to the program to decline to participate.

Six states allow patients to end their own lives with medication, so-called “death with dignity.”

In Oregon, only 1,459 people have used that state’s 21-year-old death with dignity law to end their lives with prescribed medication. More than 75 percent of these patients had cancer, and 11 percent had a neurological disease, often Lou Gehrig’s Disease. More than 90 percent died at home.

Backers of Maine’s legislation are prepared to again take the issue to a referendum if LD 1313 doesn’t become law.

By signing the bill, Mills would show true leadership on a difficult issue, that has been studied and debated for years. We have the information we need to know that LD 1313 is a responsible and empowering step for families like Williams’.

Mills would also spare Maine a divisive, painful and unnecessary campaign.

Williams summed it up better than we can: “It is hard enough to get a terminal diagnosis. But then to have all your choices stripped away from you, to have no say in how it ends, to have starving to death be your only option is just wrong.”

By signing LD 1313, Mills can fix this wrong.



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