This is a report from this week’s votes on LD 1270, a Death with Dignity bill, in Maine’s legislature, by our long-time supporter and volunteer, Valerie Lovelace.
Valerie Lovelace is the executive director of the nonprofit It’s My Death, which she founded to honor a promise to her sister Dee, dying of cancer, “to teach others how to be with dying, how to speak and listen to one another the way we had learned to speak and listen, and how to go on even when afraid.” She is an inter-faith minister, ordained by calling, studying and practicing in the traditions of her elders and teachers, who are Native American, Christian, and Buddhist. She is a hospice volunteer, artist, and the parent of three adult children. She is also a homeopathic practitioner and a Reiki Master, retired from the U.S. Navy, and a trained EMT. She lives in Maine.
Today I am both happy and sad.
I’m happy that LD 1270, An Act Regarding Patient-Directed Care at the End-of-Life, enjoyed a Committee hearing, a Committee working session, two Senate hearings with roll call votes, an historic House hearing with a roll call vote—all in the space of just two months.
LD 1270 in the Legislature
The first Senate hearing on Monday resulted in an 18-17 vote “Ought Not to Pass”; the subsequent hearing in the House House yielded a 76-70 vote “Ought to Pass,” which sent the bill back to the Senate with the same result. Fascinating and encouraging is that these aren’t all the same votes. One Senator changed to a supportive position while another changed to opposing. That means there are changes of heart around this issue and lots of potential exists for ongoing education and advocacy in Maine’s legislature.
The bill was a late-in-the-first-half effort that took a lot of time, because four different legislative teams drafted bills. The four merged into Senator Katz’s draft, a fine piece of bi-partisan legislation, modeled on Vermont’s Act 39, with very strong sponsorship that finally went to public hearing on May 15, 2015, just one month and two days before the end of the session.
Death with Dignity in Maine Isn’t Going Away
Add to this the difficulty of getting a budget settled and all the turmoil that goes with it, and it feels to me like efforts with LD 1270 were hugely successful. I’m happy that two physicians, one in the House and one in the Senate, boldly supported the draft. But, LD 1270 is no more.
After the Tuesday session, Senator Katz said of the Senate’s failure to pass the bill, “Today, we fell short by one vote. Just one. This will come to the legislature again. It’s an end-of-life issue that isn’t going away.”
I feel sad making phone calls this evening to some terminally ill people who counted on this bill and counted on their legislators. But I am encouraged by their commitment to keep telling their stories and working towards another bill for the next legislative round.
I’m sad so many in Maine remain unaware of what this legislation is about and what it seeks to achieve, and I’m sad (and perhaps a little angry) when organized efforts to sabotage safe, thoughtful legislation like LD 1270 come from people who say they have the utmost compassion and value for human life.
The persuasion of public policy by people who believe their perspective is right for everyone comes with serious consequences. For end-of-life options, those consequences are actual matters of life and death. At the end of a human life, no one—no one—has the right to assert a particular viewpoint, a set of values dictating what is “right” and what is “wrong,” or a medical healthcare perspective that overrides any of the civil liberties enjoyed by that dying individual.
Representative Beavers, the bill’s co-sponsor in the House, testified that likely 30 Mainers per year would end up taking a life-ending medication if statistics here are anything at all like Oregon or Washington. Those are pretty huge consequences. They have faces. They have names. They have families who care about them.
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