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Mainers Petition to Get Assisted-Suicide Initiative on Ballot

Mainers can expect to see petitions circulating in the coming weeks asking if they'd like to see an initiative for physician-assisted suicide on the fall ballot next year.

Valerie Lovelace from the Wiscasset-based Maine Death With Dignity is one of those spearheading the petition drive, to be launched next week. She volunteers for hospice.

"I've sat at the bedside of individuals who have died, and that have not gone well," says Lovelace.

Lovelace says two cases in particular were excruciating, and both of those people wanted to choose when to end their lives but couldn't.

"And so I promised them I would continue until we had this option in Maine."

Under the proposal, a person would need to receive a terminal diagnosis from at least two doctors, before being eligible to receive the medication to end their lives.

Lovelace says it's about providing a dignified choice for people who are still capable of making what she describes as a highly important and very personal decision.

Critics like hospice doctor Jim Van Kirk says he's concerned that patients, especially in rural areas of the state, aren't given anything better right now, and that's the real problem.

“‘Gee, I'm sorry you have a terminal process, but we don't have palliative care where you are, we don't have hospice where you are, but you have a choice to take these pills and end your life’ ? That's really not giving people a choice. That's saying we're not going to make a societal effort to provide you appropriate care,” Van Kirk says.

Two recent attempts to create a death with dignity bill in the legislature have failed, although attempts stretch back to the 1990's, shortly after the passage of such a bill in Oregon. Since then, four more states have passed assisted-suicide bills, with legislation under review in a handful of other states.

A Public Policy Poll taken in 2017 showed 73 percent of Mainers supportive of a patient's right to choose a planned death. The Maine Medical Association has recently changed its position from "opposed" to "neutral."

Maine Death with Dignity must collect more than 61-thousand valid signatures to place an initiative on the November 2019 ballot.