Maine Democrat Governor Signs Assisted Suicide Bill into Law

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AP/Yves Logghe

Maine became the eighth state to legalize assisted suicide Wednesday as Democrat Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law that allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill individuals to end their lives.

“It is not up to the government to decide who may die and who may live, when they shall die or how long they shall live,” Mills said in a statement. “While I do not agree that the right of the individual is so absolute, I do believe it is a right that should be protected in law, along with protections for those who are unable to articulate their informed choices and those who do not have access to quality end of life care.”

In addition to signing into law LD 1313, dubbed the Death with Dignity Act, Mills issued an executive order which requires the state Department of Health and Human Services to make rules to track utilization of the law and attempt to prevent its abuse.

With Mills’ signature on the bill, Maine joins Oregon, California, Colorado, Vermont, Washington, Hawaii, and Washington, D.C. – all of which have legalized the prescription of lethal drugs to end the lives of seriously ill individuals.

However, in April, an assisted suicide bill failed to even make it out of committee in Connecticut, where disability-rights group Second Thoughts CT noted “strong opposition from disabled people like us” was the primary reason for the defeat of the bill.

Second Thoughts CT member Cathy Ludlum testified that those with disabilities are the “collateral damage” of assisted suicide laws.

Ludlum said:

Nobody wants people to be in pain, desperate, and feeling that they have no control over what is happening in their lives. Believe me, those of us with disabilities know what it is to feel like you have no control.

But the harsh reality is that we will be the collateral damage in any formalized death-by-choice system. Many of us with severe and obvious disabilities are already too frequently thought of by medical practitioners as having reached a final stage, where death might be expected in the near future.

The Maine law, which will go into effect 90 days after the state legislature adjourns, requires two waiting periods, a second opinion by another physician, and a psychological evaluation before the lethal drugs can be prescribed.

“I applaud Governor Mills for signing the Death with Dignity Act into law,” said Val Lovelace of Maine Death with Dignity, according to Courthouse News. “I am so proud and grateful to finally be heard by our lawmakers and our Governor on this issue. This is an exceptionally historic day for Maine.”

However, Matt Vallière, executive director of Patients Rights Action Fund, said Maine’s state legislature and governor “failed” its citizens.

“Assisted suicide is a dangerous public policy that puts the most vulnerable people in society at risk for abuse, coercion and mistakes,” he said in a statement. “It also provides profit-driven insurance companies perverse incentives to offer a quick death, rather than costly continuing quality care. Mainers, especially the terminally ill, people with disabilities, and the poor, deserve better.”

According to News Center Maine, as late as last week, Mills expressed ambivalence about signing the bill into law.

“It’s a tough issue for me,” the governor said. “It’s a tough issue for every single legislator—every one of the 186 people who just voted on that in the Senate and the House.”

Mills’ decision to sign the bill into law comes as the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to restate its opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia.

On Tuesday, at a meeting in Chicago, AMA delegates voted to accept a report that recommended reaffirming the organization’s opposition to prescribing lethal drugs to the seriously ill, 71-29 percent.

“[The report] clearly speaks the truth as to what this involves – it is directly enabling a patient to end his or her life,” Diane Gowski, M.D., of Clearwater, Florida, said, according to MedPage Today.

Gowski added:

We would not give our patients a gun or revolver … so we should not be supplying them with lethal drugs. Physician-assisted suicide violates natural moral law. We urge the AMA to stand firm, as any change from the current position will only confuse the public as to the intention and role of their physicians.

Vallière applauded AMA’s decision.

“Today was a big win for patients as the AMA sides with them and people with disabilities who would be at risk for deadly harm through mistakes, coercion, and abuse,” he said, “all the while carefully guarding the trust upon which the patient-physician relationship is based.”

“Patients deserve care and protection, not a prescription for death,” he added.

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