Developments in the Assisted Suicide Referendum
In late November, I penned an op-ed calling for the rejection of an assisted suicide ballot measure that would have created a referendum similar to the law in Oregon. My piece ran in several papers throughout Maine on November 29th and 30th.
On December 3, The Seacoast Online ran a story where advocates for assisted suicide were celebrating claiming to have received over 45,000 total signatures, up from 6,000 published in article from late October. The article incorrectly stated that Sen. Roger Katz would be sponsoring a bill in the 2019 legislature. Katz was termed out as a Senator earlier in 2018, and Bruce Poilhot was elected to Katz’s former district. The article additionally stated that the advocates would be focusing on the upcoming legislative session, and if that was unsuccessful, that they would continue gathering signatures for a 2020 referendum.
Maine citizen-initiated referendum laws are some of the most restrictive laws in the state. Groups are frequently interested in getting a referendum on the ballot because it is often seen as a way to bypass the legislative process and send the vote directly to the people. Large sums of money are spent in order to obtain the number of signatures to be placed on the ballot, and in recent years that has often meant over a million dollars spent without qualifying for a referendum question, such as in the case of the referendum for the York County casino. With the advocates of assisted suicide and advocates of universal home-based care for the elderly having filed their referendum on the same day, and with the home-based question having already failed when put before voters, what was going on?
In early December, I left a message with the Elections Division regarding the specifics of the assisted suicide referendum. I received a detailed call back from the Commissioner of Elections. While it was correct the both groups filed on the same day, they had begun gathering on different days, with Maine’s Death with Dignity referendum initially certified to start signature hunting on April 19th, which coincided with their press conference. The revised date was set for May 2018 due to an internal error at the Elections office regarding the petition wording, which gives the advocates until early November 2019 to collect the necessary signatures for putting the referendum back on the ballot.
It should be noted that, according to public filings, the overwhelming majority of Maine’s Death with Dignity funding is coming from out of state, specifically the Death with Dignity Nation Center. The documents also detail an arrangement of $90,000 for 20,000 signatures from a Massachusetts firm, though it was never fulfilled nor paid. The hearing for the assisted suicide referendum has been scheduled for 4/10.