AUGUSTA — A bill that would allow doctors to help terminally ill patients end their lives failed to earn majority support Wednesday from lawmakers on the Health and Human Services Committee and now faces an uphill battle in the full Legislature.
Gov. Paul LePage said this week that he would veto the bill, which means it would need support from two-thirds of lawmakers, rather than a simple majority, to become law.
But the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said he plans to keep making his case to legislators and the governor.
“There are plenty of examples of bills that come out of a committee with a recommendation of ought not to pass that ending up passing,” Katz said after Wednesday’s vote. “This is something that people will have to make a personal decision on.”
Two years ago, a similar bill, also sponsored by Katz, failed by one vote in the Senate. Since then, many states have continued the debate over whether sick patients should have a say in when and how they die.
Katz’s bill, L.D. 347, was modeled in part on a law passed in Vermont in 2013 that allows patients to request medication that could hasten their deaths and allows doctors to legally prescribe life-ending medications at a patient’s request.
PASSIONATE OPINIONS AT HEARING
At a public hearing this month, lawmakers heard passionate testimony on both sides.
Cathy Elliot, of Hampden, said the bill was about choice.
“I believe that each person should have the right to choose death with dignity when the time comes,” she said. “I also believe that each person should have the right not to choose death with dignity when the time comes and that their choice should not eliminate my choice.”
Elliot said she has a close friend who has terminal cancer and she wants her friend to have the right to die in peace if she chooses.
“I would like for her and for so many others, including myself, (to have) the option of choosing the time and place of her death and to have her death be dignified and gentle,” Elliot said. “I also wish this for her husband, her children and her grandchildren, that they not have to watch her suffer in her last days.”
Others had moral concerns.
“Make no mistake, physician-prescribed suicide is killing,” said Tim Russell, a Sidney resident. “And once we start legally calling it a treatment, it will become the cheapest treatment available and therefore the most prescribed – destroying the delicate trust relationship between a doctor and patient.”
Before Wednesday’s committee vote, there was little debate among members of the Health and Human Services Committee. Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, the House chair of the committee, told those in the audience that the lack of debate “doesn’t mean we haven’t thought a lot about it.”
Hymanson, a physician, was one of three members who voted in favor of the bill. She said she has seen enough in her 30 years as a doctor to support this as an option for some patients.
But Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, the Senate chair of the committee, said he couldn’t get past the fact that insurance companies or the government would be paying for people to die.
“When we open this door, what incentive structures might we be creating where people are pushed or nudged into this decision because of who’s paying the bills,” he said. “I just can’t shake that concern.”
GOVERNOR: ‘I DON’T BELIEVE IN IT’
LePage, who did not weigh in on the proposal during the public hearing, was asked about it during a radio interview Monday.
“I’m against it,” he said on WVOM’s “George Hale and Ric Tyler Show.” “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.”
Wednesday’s committee vote was 3-5, but there were four members not present who still could log their vote within 48 hours. However, based on the members who were absent, Brakey and Hymanson didn’t expect the outcome to change. That means the bill will most likely come out of the committee with a recommendation that it not pass.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: