The Democrat-led Maine Legislature voted to legalize assisted suicide.
The bill would allow doctors to prescribe terminally ill patients with fatal drugs. The House passed the bill on Monday by a margin of one vote, leading the Senate to pass the bill to the desk of Democratic governor Janet Mills with a vote of 19-16.
Critics of the bill said that legalizing assisted suicide will endanger vulnerable citizens. Matt Valliere, executive director of Patients Rights Action Fund, said that assisted suicide would put more pressure on those with inadequate insurance to cover costly care options.
"Assisted suicide public policy leaves those who already struggle to access health care … at a much higher risk for abuse, coercion and mistakes," Valliere said. "The so-called safeguards in this bill are hollow and fail to eliminate that risk. We call on Governor Janet Mills to veto this bill and to focus instead on improving access to quality health care for all people of Maine."
The bill received support from both Republicans and Democrats and targets patients who have received terminal diagnoses. Maine has the oldest median age of any state in the United States.
The advancement of the Maine bill came days after the death of Dutch teen Noa Pothoven, who starved herself to death with the consent of her parents and doctors. Pothoven, 17, fell into a deep depression after being raped and sexually assaulted as a child. Her story drew international attention when English media outlets inaccurately reported that she was euthanized. Naomi Oeleary of Politico Europe explained that Pothoven was not euthanized under the legalized system in the Netherlands, but was instead given permission by her parents and doctors to starve herself to death.
Still, Pothoven's story sparked debate over euthanasia bills in the United States, with assisted suicide advocates emphasizing that such a story would never happen in the states. Compassion & Choices, a driving force behind successful legalization campaigns in eight states and the District of Columbia, said there are adequate protections in place to ensure that assisted suicide is not used by minors or by those with otherwise treatable conditions.
"U.S. federal and state laws do not authorize minors to stop eating and drinking without their parents' consent," said Kevin Díaz, chief legal advocacy officer for Compassion & Choices. "The status of minors predates by many decades the U.S. medical aid-in-dying laws, which are limited to mentally capable, terminal ill adults, with a terminal prognosis of six months or less to live. The eligibility requirements for medical aid in dying have not changed since Oregon became the first state to authorize this end-of-life care option in 1994. No evidence suggests they will ever change."
Anti-euthanasia groups argue that Pothoven's story is the eventual fate of a country that legalizes suicide. Dr. T. Brian Callister, governor of the Nevada chapter of the College of American Physicians, said that Europe has demonstrated how limited euthanasia regimes can be expanded to include depressed patients and even children once the door is opened.
"The death of 17 year old Noa Pothoven in the Netherlands shows us, in the most tragic of ways, what happens when a society completely loses its moral compass," Callister said. "This is not about compassion or choice, it's about unabashed killing—killing that replaces care, killing that replaces treatment, killing that replaces love."
Other advocates such as Kristen Hanson, community relations advocate for Patients Rights Action Fund, argue that euthanasia can create a positive image of suicide that sometimes misleads people with poor mental health.
"[W]hen assisted suicide and euthanasia become public policy, they inevitably replace suicide prevention for the vulnerable, which is the truly compassionate response to such suffering," Hanson said. "And when premature death is seen by the state as an appropriate response to suffering, it reinforces suicidal ideation. Americans should reject following the Netherlands along the path of legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia."
Gov. Mills has not indicated whether she will sign the assisted suicide bill. It will become law even in the absence of her signature after 10 days.