A proposal to allow physician-assisted suicide may wind up on the ballot for Mainers to decide.

Backers of the Maine Death with Dignity Act, which fell short in the Legislature, plan to launch a petition drive to collect enough signatures to allow a referendum on the issue.

The lead applicant, end-of-life consultant Valerie Lynn Lovelace of Westport Island, told lawmakers this year that she is the founder of It’s My Death, a nonprofit “with the goal of helping people connect with death and dying as a part of living authentically and consciously.”

If it moves forward, the issue is likely to prove controversial. It is opposed by, among others, the Roman Catholic Church, the Maine Hospice Council and the Maine Right to Life Committee.

To get a referendum on the statewide ballot, organizers need to work out the wording with the Secretary of State’s Office and then have 18 months to collect at least 61,123 signatures from registered Maine voters.

If they succeed, the Legislature has the option of passing the measure – which is unlikely given that it fell short 85-61 in the House this year – or putting it on the ballot.

Rep. Richard Bradstreet, R-Vassalboro, said Tuesday it’s hard to be against the idea of letting people vote, but he’s not sure it’s wise. Too often, he said, the results come down to “whoever gets the message out” best rather than which side ought to prevail.

A half-dozen states already allow physician-assisted suicide, but Maine legislators have consistently declined to join their ranks. Critics cite a range of concerns, including a fear that it could be used to exploit vulnerable patients who can’t get the health care they need.

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