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Maine Voters Could Soon Decide Fate Of Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill


Maine residents could soon vote on a controversial physician-assisted suicide measure.

A citizens group has launched a petition to get an assisted death law on a statewide ballot next fall.

If proponents gather more than 61,000 valid signatures, Mainers could decide if terminally ill patients have the right to request life-ending medications from their doctors. Organizers are working closely with It’s My Death and Maine Death with Dignity.

The initiative is based on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. It would require patients with a life-expectancy of six months or less to submit multiple requests for such drugs and be deemed mentally competent.

Supporter Valerie Lovelace, from Wiscasset-based Maine Death With Dignity, said she believes assisted suicide allows people to die on their own terms.

“I’ve sat at the bedside of individuals who have died, and that have not gone well,” Lovelace told Maine Public radio.

A 2017 Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by Death with Dignity found 73 percent of Mainers support such legislation.

However, such legislation is strongly opposed by the American Medical Association, some conservatives, religious groups and disability advocates.

The Chicago-based AMA is the nation’s largest organization of physicians and represents nearly 200,000 doctors, medical students and residents. Its policy remains unmoved amid a national debate regarding the risks and benefits of physician-assisted suicide.

Dr. James Van Kirk, a palliative care physician, told New England Cable News that the state should instead focus on increasing access to comfort care.

“In our state, there are vast areas where no palliative or hospice care is available to the population,” Van Kirk said, adding that he worries passing a law legalizing assisted suicide would give dying people in rural communities few other options.

Last month, Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed a physician-assisted suicide bill into law, making the Islands of Aloha the sixth U.S. state to legalize the practice.