(CNSNews.com) - The Maine Senate on Tuesday voted 19-16 to pass a bill that allows assisted suicide, under certain conditions, in the case of terminal illness.
The bill passed by only one vote in the Maine House.
It now goes to Democrat Gov. Janet Mills, who has not said if she will sign it.
“It's a tough issue for me,” Mills told a gathering of business leaders this week. “It's a tough issue for every single legislator—every one of the 186 people who just voted on that in the Senate and the House.”
"The Maine Death with Dignity Act" says a person who is at least 18 and has been diagnosed with a terminal disease may request medication prescribed for the purpose of ending his or her life.
The bill requires waiting periods and multiple requests from the patient, both written and oral, for life-ending medication; and it requires at least two physicians to assess the patient for depression or other mental health conditions that might impair the person’s judgment.
Republican State Sen. Marianne Moore is one of the Republican co-sponsors of the bill in the Senate, although there were no Republican sponsors in the House. “I hope you will come down on the side of the terminally ill, people who don’t seem to be asking for too much: the right to choose their own end of life care,” she was quoted as saying.
Advocates of assisted suicide say it’s all about having a choice, even if the patient decides not to do it.
As one advocate put it in a recent letter to the editor: "Consider a person with a terminal diagnosis coupled with the probability of a long, painful and possibly bankrupting death (with the subsequent impoverishment of the survivors). Having the choice to end their own physical and mental suffering would be a great comfort even if they never opt to exercise that choice."
But Matt Valliere, executive director of Patients Rights Action Fund, rejects the bill.
“Assisted suicide public policy leaves those who already struggle to access health care – the poor, the terminally ill, persons living with disabilities, people of advanced age, and those living in remote areas -- at a much higher risk for abuse, coercion and mistakes,” Fox News quoted him as saying.
“The so-called safeguards in this bill are hollow and fail to eliminate that risk. We call on Governor Janet Mills to veto this bill and to focus instead on improving access to quality health care for all people of Maine.”
Critics such as Valliere have pointed out that the bill is vaguely written, particularly in regard to the term "incurable." The term does not mean that the disease is untreatable.
Patients Rights Action Fund lists a number of other objections, including:
-- 18-year-olds cannot legally buy beer in Maine, but they would be able to obtain a prescription for a lethal overdose of drugs.
-- The written request for doctor-prescribed suicide could be witnessed by someone who would benefit financially from the patient’s death.
-- Assisted suicide would be transformed from a crime into the least expensive “medical treatment” available.
Pope Francis also has condemned euthanasia and assisted suicide, imploring society not to “abandon those who are suffering.”
Similar assisted suicide bills are pending in Delaware, Kansas, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Rhode Island.