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The Element of Choice: Testimony in Support of Maine LD 347, An Act to Support Death with Dignity

April 12, 2017

This is a transcript of the testimony in support of LD 347/LD 1066 given by Sarah E. Walcott, a resident of Portland, Maine and a Master’s student of social work at the University of New England, at the April 5, 2017 hearing of the Maine State Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services. We have formatted and lightly edited the testimony; likewise, the subheadings are ours.

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Senator Brakey and Representative Hymanson, members of the Committee. My name is Sarah Walcott, and I am a resident of Portland. I would like to offer my strong support of this bill. I am currently enrolled in the Masters of Social Work program at the University of New England, and this bill and others like it across the country are the reason that I chose to switch careers and go back to school. I plan to go into the field of end-of-life care upon graduation, and I am passionate about providing people with the choices that are best for them during that time.

A Choice and an Option

I want to speak today to that element of choice that is inherent in the language of this bill. This is not a mandate, a requirement, or even a suggestion; but rather an option that allows terminally ill people to end their suffering on their own terms should they choose to do so.

Contrary to what detractors might state, there has been no evidence of any kind of coercion, financial, emotional or otherwise, in any of the states that have legalized this practice. In fact, with so many safeguards in place within the language of the bill, such coercion would be nearly impossible.

The focus of the bill, as it should, lies with the wishes of the individual. If the practice of Death with Dignity does not align with your views, there are many other wonderful end-of-life options available. However, who are we to interfere with that element of choice during such an intensely personal, painful, and emotional time for individuals and their families? Who are we to decide what is right for everyone?

[W]ho are we to interfere with that element of choice during such an intensely personal, painful, and emotional time for individuals and their families?

Quantity vs. Quality of Life

When faced with a terminal diagnosis, some people, as is well within their right, choose to focus on their quantity of life. They want as much time as possible, no matter what that time looks like, with their loved ones. That’s understandable.

Other people, as should be well within their rights, want the highest quality of life they can attain; a life that is free from the painful and often undignified natural end to many terminal illnesses. They want meaningful time, time they can appreciate and participate in, with their families and friends. That’s understandable too.

And of course in an ideal world, we would all have both quality and quantity. However, a terminal diagnosis takes so much away from everyone it touches; shouldn’t we allow people in that terrible situation the honor of maintaining as much control over the remainder of their lives as possible? Until we have been there ourselves, this is not a choice we should prevent others from making. We allow and encourage people to exercise self-determination throughout their lives; why should we not extend the same invitation when it comes to the end of that life?

The Freedom to Make that Choice for Myself

Thankfully, I am not in a position of having to make this type of decision right now. I’m not sick. And if I were, I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know if I would take advantage of this bill. I imagine that would be an incredibly difficult choice to make, but I do know that I would want the freedom to make that choice for myself.

I would encourage the state of Maine to allow our terminally ill citizens the same freedoms that have been extended to citizens of Oregon, California, Vermont, Washington, Colorado and a growing number of other states also considering bills like these.

I urge you to pass this bill and unanimously vote “ought to pass.” Thank you for your time.

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Afterword: Physician-Assisted Dying Concepts

Death with Dignity Bills Have Common Protections, Requirements

While many state legislatures are grappling with the issue of medical aid in dying, the content of the bills at the center of those deliberations has many common elements. That’s because these bills are usually based on the landmark Death with Dignity Acts in Oregon and Washington. Those statutes include stringent eligibility requirements and patient protections. While only a small number of people use the laws each year (in the last couple of years in Oregon, for example, Death with Dignity participants made up less than half of one percent of all deaths), they provide an option for people who are already dying to take control of that final process.