Based on what happened after Oregon legalized the practice, it's incompatible with values held by Mainers.
Maine residents are being asked to sign a petition calling for a referendum on legalizing assisted suicide to be placed on the 2019 ballot. The practice was legalized in Oregon in 1997. Since then, there have been far more problematic issues and unanswered questions than any assisted-suicide proponent claims.
The Maine Legislature has voted down a number of attempts to legalize assisted suicide over the past two decades. The Health and Human Services Committee has never supported any version of this proposal, and an assisted-suicide measure has never passed the Legislature. In fact, the last time such a bill went to a floor vote, in 2017, it failed the House by 61 to 85, a larger margin than in recent history.
The proponents of this law can’t pass this it in the Legislature, so now they are trying to get it through a statewide referendum. The problem is that the proponents have short memories: In 2000, Maine voters soundly rejected a referendum that mirrored Oregon’s law. Mainers have decided time and again against assisted suicide, and we don’t need another referendum funded primarily by out-of-state interests.
If asked to sign a petition for the referendum, say “no,” and be firm. Assisted-suicide laws are the most blatant forms of discrimination based on disability in our society today. Does it make sense to tell a person who is battling cancer to consider suicide? Should we not be doing everything we can to support these people in having the best possible health care and home care so they have quality of life for however long they have?
With the experience of the laws in Oregon as a guide, the question of assisted suicide becomes, quite frankly, incompatible with Maine values. Oregon’s doctors have written suicide prescriptions for individuals whose medical basis for eligibility for assisted suicide was listed as diabetes. In Oregon, and in the referendum language, a person is terminally ill if he or she has a condition that could be reasonably considered terminal only if the patient refuses needed medication. By that definition, people could qualify as “terminal” who have epilepsy, ongoing infections and other illnesses that can be managed with medication. This petition is not limited in scope and is actually far more dangerous than the proponents want to admit.
While much of our state is relatively close to adequate hospice and palliative care, there are huge gaps in northern and eastern Maine when it comes to these services. Before considering a public policy of assisted suicide, Maine must solve the vast disparity of access to hospice services and palliative care. It is not time to even consider a flawed law such as the one this referendum is proposing. Please, decline to sign.
In Oregon, the rate of suicide is 33 percent above the national average, and the rate of teen suicide is soaring. There is a clear problem of suicide contagion.
While the proponents claim there are safeguards, there is absolutely no oversight once the pills are prescribed. Under the Oregon law, a friend or relative – even an heir – can “encourage” an elder to make the request, sign the forms as a witness, pick up the prescription and even administer the drug (with or without consent) because no objective witness is required at death, so who would know?
The method of dying that the referendum is trying to legalize involves taking 100 pills of a barbiturate, emptying the contents of each pill into a sweet solution, then drinking the solution. It can take up to 104 hours for people to die from the solution, and in seven Oregon cases, the person who took the solution woke up.
This is not “death with dignity” – it’s a desperate effort to further a dangerous law and give it mainstream credibility, with no regard for the harm it causes, and it even gives full legal immunity to any medical personnel or other person who assists in the suicide. The only real protections in the law are for people other than the patient, foreclosing any realistic potential for investigation of foul play.
For all of the reasons above, please decline to sign.
This opinion piece previously ran in the Press Herald on 11/29/18 and in the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal on 11/30/18.