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'Death With Dignity' Bill Gets Preliminary Approval In Maine

Joel Page
AP Photo

After an hour of emotional debate, the Maine Senate Thursday voted for a measure that would allow some terminally-ill patients to request life-ending medication.

The House passed the measure last Tuesday 72-to-68, and the Senate margin was also narrow 19-to-16. Opponents brand the bill as “assisted suicide,” while supporters, including Republican Sen. Marianne Moore of Calais label it “death with dignity.”

“The Maine Death with Dignity Act will allow competent, terminally ill Maine residents who are within six months of death to legally obtain oral prescription medication they can voluntarily take to peacefully end their life,” Moore says.

Most Democrats in the Senate supported the bill, but most Republicans opposed it, with many citing personal, religious beliefs.

Republican Jeff Timberlake of Turner says the measure puts people in the role of God.

Timberlake “A human being has to play the role of God for that six months, has to determine when that date starts,” Timberlake says. “I don’t think we have the right to play that role.”

But others spoke of their personal experiences with a loved one dying of a terminal illness and watching them suffer. Democrat Brownie Carson of Harpswell told Senate colleagues that those opposed to the use of this kind of medication are under no obligation to use it.

“I rise to speak in support of death with dignity because if I need it, when I need it, I wish to be able to make that choice for myself and for my own family,” Carson says.

Fellow Democrat, Bill Diamond of Windham, who has supported the measure in the past, voted against the measure.

“I have had loved ones that have died in a very tough way…my mother being one,” Diamond says. “I don’t have an answer for anyone other than myself, and I am at the point where I have to vote against this bill.”

The issue has been before maine lawmakers and voters for some time. In 2000, voters narrowly rejected a citizen-initiated referendum by a 51- to- 49 percent margin. Lawmakers have rejected similar bills a half dozen times since 1992. If it fails to pass again this session, supporters have organized to collect signature to force another referendum on the issue in 2020.

The measure faces further votes in both the House and Senate, and Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has not indicated how she stands on the issue.