The Maine Death with Dignity Act went into effect today. Maine is the nation’s ninth jurisdiction with a death with dignity statute.
A signature-gathering effort by the Christian Civic League for a petition to repeal the Act failed the day before, eliminating a threat to implementation of the law. Starting today, Mainers are now able to die the way they want: without suffering, in peace, and with dignity.
Mainers like Cyndie Rogers, who has been sharing her story and the wish to die using the law in state and national media. Or Len Freeman, who simply wants Mainers to have “the end-of-life choices they want and need.” Or Val Lovelace, the fearless leader of Maine Death with Dignity, whose tireless work, sleepless nights, and her perseverance above all made this law possible.
Culmination of a Long Campaign
The Maine Death with Dignity Act was introduced in the legislature earlier this year as LD 1313 by Representative Patricia Hymanson (D-York), a retired neurologist, with bi-partisan co-sponsorship from both chambers.
This was the third legislative session with a similar bill. The bill passed in the House by 73 to 72 in May and in the Senate by 19 to 16 in early June.
A parallel effort Maine Death with Dignity initiated in April 2018 gathered over 72,000 valid signatures and would have taken the question to ballot in 2020 had LD 1313 failed.
How the Law Works
Like the Oregon law it is based on, the Maine Death with Dignity Act allows qualifying terminally ill adult state residents to receive prescription medication to end their lives in a peaceful and dignified manner. The patient must be competent and deemed by two physicians to be within 6 months of death, the same standard as hospice, and capable of taking the medications themselves. The process entails two oral and one written request witnessed by two people and a lengthy waiting period.
In over 40 years of combined flawless implementation in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado, and Washington, D.C., the death with dignity option has been used sparingly. In Oregon, fewer than 4 in 1,000 deaths in the state are under the law. A third of those who successfully obtain a prescription opt not to use it.
“Oregon’s pioneering law was carefully implemented and has been working exactly as intended for over two decades,” added Peg Sandeen, our Executive Director. “It was past time for states like Maine to adopt death with dignity.”
Photo CC-BY-NC-ND Andy Smith.