AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to allow physician-assisted suicide in Maine passed narrowly through the Senate on Thursday on a 16-15 vote. However, the bill faces long odds for final enactment.
Because of stated opposition to the bill from Republican Gov. Paul LePage, the measure needs two-thirds support in both legislative chambers, which in the Senate requires 24 votes.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, would legalize an extended process through which a terminally ill patient who has the mental capacity to do so could end his or her life with the assistance of a doctor. LD 347 includes a more than two-week process in which a patient must affirm and re-affirm his wishes and addresses issues ranging from palliative care to life insurance issues.
Katz sponsored a similar bill in 2015. It passed in the House but failed in the Republican-controlled Senate on an 18-17 vote with all but three Republicans voting against it.
An independent House member attempted the concept in 2013 but it was defeated in a lopsided House vote, A similar concept was also put to referendum in 2000 but voters rejected it.
This year, as in the past, opposition has centered on religious and ethical concerns, as well as practical considerations such as family members pressuring someone to end his or her life for financial reasons.
In testimony Thursday on the Senate floor, Katz said his bill specifically addresses a number of those concerns. He said several states allow physician-assisted suicide and that resistance from a number of groups is eroding. At least four states already allow the process and more than a dozen more are considering it.
“It’s about personal dignity. It’s about self-determination and it’s about the right to choose one’s own path, not the path that others might choose for you,” said Katz. “It is our life.”
Democratic Sen. Geoff Gratwick of Bangor, who is a physician, also spoke in favor of the bill. He told a story about a former patient and friend’s excruciating death.
“That death has always stuck with me,” said Gratwick. “I’m voting for this because I think I could have done much better for this man, who was both my patient and my friend.”
Republican Sen. Amy Volk of Scarborough said there have been too many examples in other states of physician-assisted suicide regulations that weren’t adhered to closely enough. In other cases, she said, patients who could have lived much longer opted for the procedure.
“Legalizing physician-assisted suicide is just too dangerous for the state of Maine,” said Volk.
Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, told a story about an experience he had with a constituent who suggested physician-assisted suicide should be legalized because it would save money in the health care field and for families and loved ones of the terminally ill.
“I’m not sure what that man would have done if his mom or his dad were at the end of their life,” said Thibodeau, who opposes the bill. “It makes you pause and wonder what kind of advice he may or may not have given to his parents. I found that so sad and I don’t want to put anybody in that position.”
Republican Sen. Dana Dow of Waldoboro said the Bible stops him from supporting the bill.
“Paul [from the Bible] speaks of hope as a noun,” said Dow. “Hope for Paul is absolute certainty that what God has begun, he will finish.”
The bill now heads to the House and, depending on what happens there, faces additional votes in the Senate.