AUGUSTA – Who can decide when a terminally ill patient dies? A state lawmaker, who is also a physician, wants to leave that choice to the patient with her proposed Death with Dignity legislation.
It would allow patients to get prescribed medication to end their life and stop their suffering.
“Life is a personal thing. Death is a personal thing,” said Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D – York, the bill’s sponsor. “And people should have the choice that they want.”
The bill has gotten bipartisan support, but also had a group of people speaking in opposition at a public hearing in Augusta Wednesday.
Opponents call it doctor-prescribed suicide and don’t like the government legislating who dies. They said the bill’s required depression screening and other safeguards don’t go far enough.
“The evaluation of someone’s suicidality is not an exact, precise science. More often than not, we can be wrong,” said Jerry Collins, a retired psychiatrist.
Supporters point to other requirements of the bill to protect patients. Verbal and written requests, witnessed by another person, must be made. The patient must also get a physician’s approval, be a legal adult and be mentally competent.
“I can’t imagine any greater anguish than having unmitigated pain and the inability to have any control over their life, their function, their dignity,” said Chris Johnson, a former state senator.
Those opposed point to issues they said have arisen in states where this is already legal. They cited instances of patients having to take one hundred pills, waking back up after taking them, and doing it without a physician.
“A mother of four in California who testified against this legislation previously in our state was denied life-sustaining treatment, but offered a $1.20 copay instead in order to ingest life ending medication,” said Laura Parker, a hospice nurse. “We have a very elderly population in Maine … and we do have a lot of people who I think could be taken advantage of.”
Similar versions of this bill have failed in the legislature before. Some former lawmakers, like Johnson, said they support the bill because of emotional testimony given in years past.
“To me that has never left me. Those stories don’t go away,” he said.
Rep. Hymanson said even if this bill doesn’t pass, the same issue will go before Maine voters in a referendum.