On Tuesday, April 4, the Maine Legislature will have public hearings on two nearly identical pieces of legislation dealing with physician-assisted suicide. LD 347 and LD 1066 are versions of the same bill that Maine voters have consistently said no to as far back as 1995 in the Legislature and by a sizable margin when it went to referendum in 2000. Maine voters have been very consistent in their opposition to any “death with dignity” bill, and no bill has made it out of the subcommittee with an “ought to pass” vote.
Out-of-state interests, and their money, as well as Maine legislators, focused on their own political agendas or fundraising, keep this pathetic excuse for a bill continuously reintroduced, sometimes with different catch phrases, but with the same deadly intent.
Both bills grant immunity to any physician, provider or person involved and no criminal penalties are described in either bill.
I find it rather disturbing that a minor with marijuana, in a state where it is legal, would face a larger fine than any medical doctor under the proposed law.
And “terminally ill” certainly has an interesting definition in LD 347 — one that states that a person qualifies for a terminal prescription if the condition is “an incurable and irreversible disease that will, within reasonable medical judgment, result in death in six months.”
There is no mention of whether the condition can be controlled by medication, nor any exclusion for an individual whose condition can be controlled by medication.
People who have epilepsy, those who require heart medication, or even those people who have diabetes could be eligible for assisted suicide under the proposed language in LD 347.
The Oregon Death with Dignity Act reports include diabetes as an underlying terminal condition that made patients eligible for a lethal prescription.
Such laws undermine the basic values of community — inclusion and diversity — in our state.
In 2016, the Oregon Public Health Division reports also stated that less than 4 percent of patients who received a lethal dose of medication were referred for a psychological evaluation, showing that the risks of allowing someone with uncontrolled mental illness or depression are not only potential, but actual in a state where “choice” for “terminally ill” individuals has been law for 20 years.
This state has one of the best hospice networks in the nation. Maine people have fought to give access to much needed palliative care and therapy, including the use of medical cannabis in hospice facilities.
The Maine medical cannabis program has helped an untold number of thousands of Maine individuals, from children to adults, receive locally grown, safely grown and regulated medical marijuana from more than 2,000 caregivers or eight dispensaries. Maine has the highest rated medical marijuana program in the country, according to Americans for Safe Access, a pro-cannabis national nonprofit.
Interestingly, the people who are pushing for passage of the physician-assisted suicide law point to control and compassion as reasons to support it, yet the reality is much more complex than that.
Under both proposed laws, as soon as the prescription is filled, the law is remarkably silent about the administration of the lethal medication. For anyone who thinks the process will be simply taking a few pills and drifting off to sleep, that’s not how it works.
According to the Oregon Public Health Division, the two widely-used lethal drugs are Secobarbital or Pentobarbital. Pentobarbital is currently used in lethal injection death penalty cases and has become almost impossible to obtain, making Secobarbital the default drug to “die with dignity.”
When a patient is given a lethal prescription of Secobarbital they are given 90-100 capsules, told to empty the contents of the capsule in a sweet tasting liquid, and then drink the liquid. Given the scarcity of Pentobarbital, the lethal dose of Secobarbital can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $2,300.
Finally, in the past few weeks, Maine residents and people nationally have been scared about health care cuts at the federal level, which could deny people access to health care they need and want. It could also reduce home care for people with disabilities of all ages who are living in the community.
Context is important and now is not the time to be discussing physician-assisted suicide. Now is the time for legislators to protect Maine values and say no to LD 347 and LD 1066.
Michael Reynolds is a writer and web designer for Ability Maine, a disability rights website funded by Resources Organizing for Social Change, a non-profit based in Maine. He is a long-time disability rights activist and was born with cerebral palsy. He lives in Lewiston.