Maine becomes latest state to legalize physician aid-in-dying; AMA continues opposition

Prescription and pills
While Maine became the latest state to approve physician aid-in-dying, the practice remains controversial. (Getty/Gti337)

Maine has become the eighth state in the country to legalize physician aid-in-dying.

Governor Janet Mills (D) signed the Maine Death with Dignity Act, which will allow physicians to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill people who want to end their lives.

The bill requires a patient to undergo two waiting periods and make one written and two oral requests for a prescription, as well as requiring a second opinion by a consulting physician and a psychological evaluation. The law will go into effect 90 days after the adjournment of the Maine legislature.

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In signing the bill, Mills said she hoped the new law “will be used sparingly.” The law passed by just one vote in the Maine House and a slim margin in the Senate.

Since Oregon became the first state to legalize what was then called physician-assisted suicide, similar legislation has been passed in California, Colorado, Vermont, Washington, Hawaii and Washington, D.C. Starting on August 1, medical aid-in-dying will also be the law in New Jersey, where the governor signed legislation earlier this year.

This year, at least 18 states are considering similar laws, according to the Associated Press

While gaining more acceptance, medical aid-in-dying remains controversial.

RELATED: Small number of Colorado patients used medical aid-in-dying during first year of law

Last week at its annual meeting in Chicago, the American Medical Association reaffirmed its opposition to medical aid-in-dying by a large margin. Delegates voted to reaffirm the AMA’s existing policy that “physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control and would pose serious societal risks.”

Compassion & Choices, a group that supports medical aid-in-dying, criticized the AMA’s decision to maintain its Code of Medical Ethics opposition. The group said the AMA contradicted itself by also saying that physicians can provide medical aid-in-dying “according to the dictates of their conscience without violating their professional obligations.”

“It defies basic logic for the AMA to maintain that medical aid-in-dying is unethical but that ethical physicians can provide it,” said AMA member David Grube, national medical director for Compassion & Choices, former president of the Oregon Medical Board and a retired family physician who wrote prescriptions for medical aid-in-dying in Oregon.

While the AMA remains opposed to medical aid-in-dying, some of its chapters have dropped their opposition and now take a neutral stance on the issue.

On the other side of the argument, Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said in a blog post the vote was “great news.”

“After three years of intense review of its assisted suicide policy, AMA delegates overwhelmingly upheld that assisted suicide is incompatible with the physician's role as healer,” he wrote.

Reproductive health care legislation

In other healthcare news from Maine, Mills earlier this month signed a bill to allow physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses to perform abortions, in addition to physicians.  

“Allowing qualified and licensed medical professionals to perform abortions will ensure that Maine women, especially those in rural areas, are able to access critical reproductive health care services when and where they need them from qualified providers they know and trust,” Mills said. “By signing this bill into law, Maine is defending the rights of women and taking a step towards equalizing access to care as other states are seeking to undermine, rollback or outright eliminate these services.”

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