Human Rights

Bipartisan House vote in Maine rejects bill legalizing assisted suicide

Assisted suicide injection needle

For the second time, lawmakers in Maine have rejected assisted suicide. Tuesday, a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide in Maine failed in the state House, with a bipartisan vote of 85-61 rejecting it. The bill had already passed the state Senate by just one vote, but needed to pass the House before being sent to Governor Paul LePage’s desk to be signed.

LePage would have been yet another obstacle for the bill, however; in April, he announced that he would veto the bill, explaining that he opposed assisted suicide. “Here we are talking about death with dignity and we’re sitting there, human beings, passing judgment on who can live and who can die. No, I don’t believe in it,” he said. That would have meant that two-thirds of the House and the Senate would have had to vote in favor of the bill to override LePage’s veto.

A bill legalizing assisted suicide in Maine also failed in 2015, but by just one vote, a much smaller margin.

The 2017 bill would allow Maine residents with an “incurable and irreversible disease” with six months or less to live to request a fatal dosage of prescription drugs. The patient would need to make two separate requests, 15 days apart, and then put the request in writing, which would have to be witnessed by two unrelated people. The doctor would be required to document the request, as well as the patient’s prognosis. The bill had lawmakers on both sides of the aisle showing support and opposition. Ultimately, the opposition won.

“My conscience tells me that this is the wrong direction for a variety of reasons,” Rep. Gay Grant, a Democrat, said. “This is not a partisan issue. It is a human issue.” Republican Deborah Sanderson also opposed the bill. “These bills are sold as having a voluntary patient choice, however there is no physician present when these pills are taken,” she argued. “How do we know there is choice at the end when they self administer? I think we would be naive to imagine that every family is perfect and there may not be an occasion for an alternative motive, an inheritance or financial gain.”

But perhaps one of the best arguments against the bill came from Republican Chad Wayne Grignon, who is a cancer survivor, and pointed out that offering suicide as an option for people suffering from pain and disease will ultimately be harmful. “Ten years ago, most cancers, including the one I now have, was a death sentence,” Grignon said. “Today, with technology, those (prospects) are changing. We come into this world in pain, screaming and fighting for air. I believe this is part of the natural order. I plan on leaving without a government-sanctioned option of leaving early.”

Grignon makes an excellent point — studies have found that people with terminal illnesses who request assisted suicide are often also dealing with problems like low family support, fear, hopelessness, and clinical depression. When the underlying issues are treated, such as depression, the request for assisted suicide is often withdrawn. Legalizing assisted suicide means that these people, who are arguably at the most vulnerable they ever will be, will have their suicidal thoughts affirmed, instead of being given the proper treatment that they deserve.

For now, the bill could be voted on again, but it is expected that it will die once again. Assisted suicide is spreading across the country, but it appears that in Maine, at least, life has won for now.

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