AUGUSTA — After an impassioned round of floor speeches Tuesday, the Maine House narrowly approved a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to end their own lives with a lethal dose of medication prescribed by a doctor.

The so-called “death with dignity” bill cleared the House by just four votes, 72-68, with 11 lawmakers either absent or excused. A similar bill was rejected by the House in 2017, when 85 of the 151 lawmakers opposed the measure.

The bill cuts across party lines, with Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the measure.

If passed, Maine would become only the eighth state with a similar law on the books, following Oregon, which passed its law in 1997.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, a physician, said the law would require a terminal diagnosis and a patient would need to be within six months of death to be eligible.

The bill also has other safeguards, including a requirement that the patient make two verbal requests and a written request and be capable of taking the fatal dose on their own. The measure also requires a 15-day waiting period and the confirmation of two doctors that a person meets the requirements of the law, among other protections, Hymanson said.

The bill also requires the death certificate to show that the cause of death to be the underlying disease or illness.

Opponents of the measure said the bill presents a slippery slope for legalized euthanasia and “creates the perfect crime” in the words of Rep. Mary Anne Kinney, R-Knox.

Kinney said even diabetes without treatment can be considered a terminal illness within six months. She said some may be pressured into taking their own lives so family members can cash in on insurance policies.

“This is suicide, (and) it’s murder on the part of the doctor in a lot of ways,” Kinney said.

The bill, LD 1313, still faces additional votes in both the House and the Senate.

 

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