Controversial push to legalize 'Death with Dignity' in Maine

    The Death with Dignity bill, also referred to as assisted suicide, would allow doctors to prescribe medication that a patient may self-administer to end their lives on their terms. (WGME)

    MAINE (WGME) -- A controversial push to legalize "Death with Dignity" in Maine is gearing up for a long debate.

    Lawmakers are expected to consider a bill to legalize "Medical Aid in Dying" this session, while at the same time volunteers are collecting signatures for a citizens’ referendum.

    While similar bills have been proposed in the past, none have ever passed.

    However, the debate over choice for the end of your life hits close to for many Mainers, including Chris Trider, whose wife died from cancer just a few months ago.

    "There were other discussions, including suicide. She came to the point where she knew she only had a couple of choices: to starve herself to death or hope for a heart attack. And those aren't good choices either one of them,” Trider said.

    After 31 days in hospice care Karen Trider passed away; she didn't eat for 36 days.

    "Karen deserved better than that," Trider said. "She really did."

    Now Trider is channeling his grief into pushing for a new "Death with Dignity" law in Maine.

    "Death with Dignity" laws, also known as "Medical Aid in Dying," are on the books in seven states and Washington DC.

    "Passing a bill like this or referendum isn't going to give these people a choice. It's going to give them one option only. And I think that's tragic,” James VanKirk M.D., hospice care physician, said.

    VanKirk believes this proposal is a bad fit for Maine.

    "Calling it death with dignity makes it very vague," VanKirk said. "I believe that every day that I work I'm helping people achieve death with dignity."

    The proposal states "Medical Aid in Dying" isn't euthanasia, where a doctor actually kills you.

    Under the proposed bill and referendum, a doctor would help but the patient would actually do it with a number of restrictions.

    - The patient must be at least 18 and be diagnosed with a terminal illness with only six months to live

    - The patient must make one written and then two oral requests to die and there's also two waiting periods

    - The patient must meet with a physician to make sure they're "competent"

    - Death is by self administered overdose of a powerful sedative

    But opponents believe more palliative and end of life care need to be offered to more rural parts of Maine before something like this can move forward.

    "When we've been able to make that commitment, then maybe it's time to talk about this," VanKirk said. "I don't think we're ready to have this conversation yet."

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