AUGUSTA — Maine lawmakers heard testimony Wednesday on a bill that would allow doctors to prescribe a terminally ill patient a fatal dose of medication at the patient’s request.

Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, speaks during a news conference Monday about a bill she’s sponsoring that would allow terminally ill patients to end their own lives with a fatal dose of medication. Press Herald photo by Scott Thistle

Dozens of supporters and critics testified at a hearing on the proposed legislation sponsored by Democratic Rep. Patty Hymanson. The bill would allow patients facing death within six months from a terminal disease to be given a fatal dose of medication by a doctor and administer it themselves.

A similar bill passed Maine’s Senate in 2017 but it failed to gain support in the House.

In case lawmakers reject the new bill, supporters are gathering signatures to put the matter on the ballot to allow voters to decide.

“The bill before you safeguards against someone with dementia, mental illness, inability to understand or who is coerced to use this process,” Hymanson said Wednesday.

Hymanson modeled the bill after a 1997 Oregon law that allows terminally ill patients to take medicine given by a doctor to end their lives.

Seven states have laws allowing medical aid in dying — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — as does the District of Columbia.

She said Oregon’s data shows 79 percent of patients who utilized the law had cancer, while 93 percent died at home and 90 percent had hospice services. Top concerns reported by such patients included loss of autonomy, decreased ability to participate in a meaningful life and loss of dignity, Hymanson added.

Right-to-life, religious groups, medical professionals and others argued that lawmakers should instead focus on improving end-of-life care, including hospice and mental health treatment.

Kristina Terry, a hospice nurse from Benton, said she once cared for a woman who began to refuse medication in efforts to hasten her death. She said she and her colleagues focused on discovering what gave the women meaning.

“She moved from a state of mind of wanting to die to allowing death to come naturally and being at peace with it,” Terry said in a written testimony to lawmakers.

But supporters said Maine’s bill includes protections aimed at vulnerable people while giving them the option to choose.

The newest bill would allow patients with terminal illnesses to ask for a fatal dose of prescription drugs. Patients would need to follow a procedure that includes two waiting periods, a second opinion by a consulting physician, and one written and two oral requests.

The bill would also criminalize the act of coercing a person into requesting such medications. Health care providers could opt out.

Beals resident Valerie Aponik, a retired nurse, said anyone with a terminal illness and a sound mind should be able to choose to end life on their terms.

“They do not want to suffer as they wait for the body’s systems to finally let go,” she said.

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