Maine becomes 8th state to legalize physician assisted suicide

Doctor Stephane Mercier visits a patient at the palliative care unit of the AP-HP Paul-Brousse hospital in Villejuif near Paris. | (Photo: Reuters)

Maine has become the latest state in the nation to legalize assisted suicide.

Although the state's Democrat Gov. Janet Mills previously said she was hesitant about the bill, she signed it on Wednesday, allowing doctors to prescribe a fatal dose of medication to terminally ill patients.

The new law states that obtaining or administering medication that ends a life is not considered suicide under state law and defines "terminal disease" as an incurable condition that is likely to result in death within six months.

"It is my hope that this law, while respecting the right to personal liberty, will be used sparingly," Mills said, after deciding to sign the bill, according to The Associated Press.

The law also requires another doctor to give a second opinion along with one written and two verbal requests. Forging a request for assisted suicide would be a criminal offense as is coercing someone into requesting life-ending drugs. Maine's law is expected to go into effect in mid-September and was supported by Democrats and a few Republicans in the legislature.

Maine is home to the population with the oldest median age.

Pro-life critics of the practice are blasting the move.

"The legislature and Governor Janet Mills failed the people of Maine," said Matt Valliere, executive director of Patients Rights Action Fund, in a statement provided to The Christian Post.

"Assisted suicide is a dangerous public policy that puts the most vulnerable people in society at risk for abuse, coercion and mistakes. It also provides profit-driven insurance companies perverse incentives to offer a quick death, rather than costly continuing quality care. Mainers, especially the terminally ill, people with disabilities, and the poor, deserve better.”

Meanwhile, those who advocate for assisted suicide, often referred to as "medical aid in dying" or "death with dignity," are remarking on the speed with which such legislation is being adopted around the country.

"I think that there's a growing awareness of how important these laws are, how impactful they can be in people's lives," said Peg Sandeen, executive director of the Death With Dignity National Center, in an interview with ABC News.

In 1997, Oregon became the first state in the nation to legalize the practice. Since then a handful of other states have adopted similar laws, including: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, Washington state, and New Jersey, which just adopted its law earlier this year.

Montana does not have a law on the books but in 2009 the state Supreme Court held that doctors could use a patient’s request for assisted suicide medication as a defense against criminal charges.

Presently, 10 other states are considering similar bills including: New York, Arizona, Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Iowa, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Utah.

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