The joint standing Committee on Health and Human Services heard public testimony on LD 347 and LD 1066 on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Representative Jennifer Parker introduced LD 1066 titled An Act to Promote Life with Dignity[i]. The Committee reported out as Ought Not to Pass on April 25.
The same Committee is divided on LD 347 which was introduced by Senator Roger Katz. It is titled An Act to Support Death with Dignity[ii].
If LD 347 is passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives, it would allow for physician-assisted dying in Maine. One hundred and twelve (112) individuals provided written testimony to the Committee for the public hearing on both bills. Some expressed support; others expressed opposition, and some took no position. Among the supporters were Legal Services for the Elderly and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. The American Nurses Association and Maine Hospice Council were among those who expressed opposition to the proposals.
The “right to die” initiative started in 1990 when Dr. Kevorkian made the headlines with his “suicide machine.”[iii] Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted dying in 1997. There are currently five states that allow for physician-assisted dying in addition to Oregon: California, Colorado, Montana, Vermont, and Washington. The Death with Dignity Act also passed in Washington DC in 2016. It remains illegal in the remaining 44 states for a doctor to fill a prescription medication to allow their patients to end their own lives.
The Maine Legislature has considered right to die legislation at least eight times previously. According to a 2017 Public Policy Polling survey, 73% of Mainers support the proposed right to die legislation.[iv] The survey found that the Mainers surveyed were more likely to support the bill after being told that physicians would be required to “fully inform patients of all possible alternative treatments before prescribing life-ending medication.” Other provisions of the proposed bill include the requirement that the patient have full capacity to make medical decisions himself or herself, the diagnosis must be a terminal illness, and both an attending physician and consulting physician must confirm diagnosis and treatment.
Complete summaries of the proposed legislation can be found at the end of each bill. The bills will now return to the chamber in which it originated: LD 347 to the Senate and LD 1066 to the House. There may be amendments, new drafts, and floor hearings before a vote on the bill takes place. If passed, the bills will then move to the other chamber and go through the same process. A bill becomes law only when the same language in the bill is approved by both chambers.
[iii] For those who don’t know about Dr. Kevorkian, you can find a biography at http://www.biography.com/people/jack-kevorkian-9364141.