Maine Just Became the 8th State to Legalize Doctor-Assisted Suicide

Maine has joined seven other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing physician-assisted suicide after Gov. Janet Mills signed the Maine Death with Dignity Act.

The state joins California, Colorado, Hawaii,†Oregon, Vermont, Washington, New Jersey and the District of Columbia in allowing terminally ill people to choose when their lives will end.

Oregon pioneered end-of-life patient-directed care when it became the first state to allow such options in 1997. Washington state followed a decade later. And New Jersey most recently passed a similar law earlier in 2019.

Maineís law, modeled after Oregonís version, requires the following:

“An adult who is competent, is a resident of this State, has been determined by an attending physician and a consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal disease and has voluntarily expressed the wish to die may make a written request for medication that the adult may self-administer in accordance with this Act. An adult does not qualify under this Act solely because of age or disability.”

The law defines a terminal disease as ďan incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, produce death within 6 months.Ē

The patientís doctor must inform the patient of:

  1. The patient’s medical diagnosis
  2. The patient’s prognosis
  3. The potential risks associated with taking the medication to be prescribed
  4. The probable result of taking the medication to be prescribed
  5. The feasible alternatives to taking the medication to be prescribed, including palliative care and comfort care, hospice care, pain control and disease-directed treatment options.

To receive a prescription for life-ending medication, the patient must make an oral request followed by a written request. Then, at least 15 days after the oral request, the patient must make a second oral request to the attending physician. Notifying next of kin is not required if the patient doesnít wish it.

If the doctor is concerned that the patient making the request for life-ending medication may have a psychiatric or psychological disorder causing impaired judgment, the doctor must refer the patient for counseling. The counselor must find the patient does not have any of these conditions before the medication can be prescribed.

Under this law, a health care provider can choose not to participate in providing end-of-life medication. But if this happens, the provider must transfer the patient’s records to another facility if the patient wishes.

senior man in hospital

Photo credit: Sean_Warren/Getty Images

Physician-assisted suicide has always been controversial. On one hand, many believe itís important to allow terminally ill patients to die on their own terms. For those who want to make this choice, itís critically important to them that they can end their lives when hope is gone and thereís little to look forward to but loss of dignity, increasing discomfort and pain.

According to Death with Dignity, a nonprofit†group that advocates for these laws nationwide:

“In over 40 years of combined flawless implementation in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado [and] D.C., the death with dignity option has been used sparingly. In Oregon, fewer than 4 in 1,000 deaths in the state are under the law. A third of those who successfully obtain a prescription opt not to use it.”

ďOregonís pioneering law was carefully implemented and has been working exactly as intended for over two decades,Ē Death with Dignity Executive Director Peg Sandeen said. ďIt is past time for states like Maine to adopt death with dignity.Ē

But opponents have a different view. Some object on religious grounds. Others fear doctors, families and insurance companies have a vested interest in persuading the most vulnerable in our society — the old, the infirm, the disabled — to end their lives prematurely.

Certainly we live in a world where some people will indeed wrongfully exert this kind of nefarious pressure. But I donít believe this will be the norm overall. Most doctors can be counted on to protect their patients from this sort of influence.

My own position is people should absolutely be able to choose when and how to end their lives when they are terminally ill. When thereís nothing but suffering left, it should be legal to end your life if thatís your decision and youíre competent to make that choice.

Sometimes those who oppose physician-assisted suicide say itís a societal indicator that some lives ďmean lessĒ than others. I disagree wholeheartedly. In fact, recognizing the right of self-determination on issues of life and death places the individual in the power position. The patient decides how meaningful continued life would be and acts accordingly.

If the law is followed as written, it recognizes the ultimate freedom: to decide when death is the preferable outcome over continued suffering and to implement that decision. Thatís the option I want if it ever becomes necessary.

Emotions run high on both sides of this argument. Care2 readers, how do you feel? Tell us below in the comments.

Photo credit: gorodenkoff/Getty Images

65 comments

Alea C
Alea C5 hours ago

Back again for butterfly points.

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Alea C
Alea C5 hours ago

Back again for butterfly points.

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Lesa D
Lesa D2 days ago

thank you Susan...

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Alea C
Alea C2 days ago

Care2 is still giving commenting points. (I said earlier that Care2 wasn't but I was wrong.

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Alea C
Alea C2 days ago

Care2 is still giving commenting points. (I said earlier that Care2 wasn't but I was wrong.

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Alea C
Alea C4 days ago

Posting for butterfly credits.

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Alea C
Alea C4 days ago

We won't need doctor assisted suicides once we reach the tipping point of climate change. We'll all be dead or dying by then anyway.

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Alea C
Alea C5 days ago

Still no new causes I see. Very disappointing.

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Alea C
Alea C5 days ago

Still no new causes I see. Very disappointing.

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Olivia H
Olivia H6 days ago

Thanks for posting

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