On April 19 at the Maine State House in Augusta, representatives from the political action committee Maine Death with Dignity officially launched a campaign to place an assisted dying measure on the 2019 statewide ballot. The petition drive is a culmination of nearly two decades of advocacy by death with dignity supporters in the Pine Tree State.
It’s Time, Maine
“It’s time Maine voters had their say and for dying Mainers to have this end-of-life option,” said Valerie Lovelace, chair of the Maine Death with Dignity Steering Committee, founder and executive director of It’s My Death, and our longtime grassroots partner.
For more than five years, Lovelace has led Maine’s grassroots movement for death with dignity. Additionally, she built strong working relationships with lawmakers who sponsored bills in the 2015 and 2017 legislative sessions. Two of those lawmakers, Maine State Senators Dave Miramant (D-Knox) and Geoff Gratwick (D-Penobscot) were present at Thursday’s press conference to express their support for the ballot initiative.
It is time for dying Mainers to have this end-of-life option. It is time Maine voters had their say.
Flanking the speaker’s podium at Thursday’s press conference were photos of Mainers who dedicated their final months to advocating for passage of an assisted dying law in their home state:
- Rebecca VanWormer, who became one of the most outspoken proponents of death with dignity in Maine, died of cancer in January 2017 at the age of 43.
- Eva Thompson, a co-signer of the petition application, died in December 2017, also from cancer. She was 59.
Lovelace brought forth the petition to honor Thompson and VanWormer, as well as Maine citizens from all walks of life and faith traditions who support having a death with dignity law.
“I promised Becky and Eva that I wouldn’t stop until Mainers have access to the same end-of-life options that other states have approved and implemented flawlessly,” Lovelace said.
Thompson’s daughter, Cayla Thompson Miller, was the first to sign the petition. Speaking through tears, she vowed to continue fighting for the right of all qualified terminally ill Mainers to die the way her mother wanted to but, because Maine lacks an assisted dying statute, could not.
“My mother, the most private and independent person I knew…was unable to eat [or] move on her own” just before she died, Thompson Miller shared. “She was in hospice and receiving numerous amounts of drugs but her quality of life was gone. She desperately wanted to be in control of those final days.”
“The right to make one’s exit gracefully before the pain and helplessness become unbearable should be a right we all have,” she added. “This is not suicide. This is allowing a dying person to make their own decision at the very end of their life.”
Sarah Witte, whose son Andy died from an aggressive brain tumor in 2010, said she was “deeply honored” to sign the petition in his and Eva’s memory.
“Most Mainers want to have this option,” Witte added.
Indeed, a March 2017 Public Policy Polling survey of Mainers showed that nearly 3 in 4 voters (73 percent) overwhelmingly support legislation expanding the right of terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to legally obtain prescription medication to end their lives.
Modeled closely on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, the proposed Maine law contains numerous safeguards to protect patients who seek to use the law to hasten their death. Death with Dignity Executive Director Peg Sandeen noted that in 20 years of flawless implementation, the Oregon law has been used sparingly—only 1,275 times, which represents fewer than 4 in 1,000 deaths in the state.
“The Oregon law has been implemented carefully and worked exactly as intended for 20 years,” Sandeen said.“The time is right for Maine to adopt this law.”
Lovelace founded It’s My Death to honor her sister, Dee, who died a painful death from cancer in 2009. Nearly a decade later, her commitment to ensuring “human rights and civil liberty…prevail in our dying” has not wavered.
“It’s time now for the voters of Maine to decide [on death with dignity],” Lovelace said. “It’s our life. It’s our death. It’s our state.”