Augusta, ME -- An initiative to legalize assisted suicide will top the Maine November election ballot. According to the initiative, which reads, "Should a terminally ill adult, who is of sound mind, be allowed to ask for and receive a doctor's help to die."
The initiative, which is strongly opposed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine, the Maine Medical Association, the Maine Hospice Council, medical educators, and pro-life organizations, has spurred the creation of four political action committees, on both sides of the issue. The groups have already begun a massive fundraising effort, which could see more than $2 million collected before a single ballot is cast.
To obtain a ballot spot, supporters of the initiative, Mainer's for Death With Dignity, were required to collect 40,000 signatures statewide. With the help of paid "circulators" they did that and a bit more.
As of March 31, the last day for which dollar figures are available, proponents of the measure have already spent $511,000. According to reports filed with the secretary of state's office, most of the money has come from out-of-state donors. The three PACs opposing the question have raised a total of $142,000 through the last reporting period.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Tom LaPointe, a spokesman for the assisted suicide effort said, "We're pleased with our position on the ballot. Let the discussion about death with dignity begin." Kate Roberts, the spokesman for Maine's for Death With Dignity, could not be reached for comment.
"We're the underdogs in this," said Edith Smith, of the Maine Citizens Against the Dangers of Physician-Assisted Suicide. "The State of Maine should not ever have physician assisted suicide. It's not necessary and it's definitely dangerous."
Asked to describe why the measure is "dangerous," Smith pointed to an 11-page document, issued in support of the question and required under the state's ballot initiative law. "There's a lot of fine print to this, which is not included in the brief question. It is fatally flawed. Among other things, it does not encourage family involvement. The definition of who is a next of kin does not require that person to be a blood relative."
Smith said groups representing the disabled have also expressed concern. "They feel they will be next. Passage of this measure will start a slippery slope. The definition of who is terminally ill is very loose. It doesn't have to be someone in the last six months of life."
According to Smith, the Maine Legislature has defeated assisted suicide questions three times in the last several years.
"Terminally ill patients need to work with their families, doctors, other care givers and clergy to be sure their final days are comfortable and to be told their lives are valuable. With all the medicines available to regulate pain, terminally ill patients can be kept comfortable," Smith insisted.
Smith characterized the 2,000-member Maine Medical Association as "adamantly opposed to the measure," and added, "We have hundreds of doctors, nurses, medical educators and hospice care workers from 26 hospice groups in the state on our side...still, this will be a very expensive ballot question to defeat. We'll need between $500,000 and $1 million to defeat it, while proponents of the question will realize large contributions from pro-death groups, most of who are from out-of-state."
For more information on the effort to defeat assisted suicide in Maine, contact: Maine Right to Life Committee, 8 Green Street, Augusta, ME 04330, (207) 622-3837