“Safeguards” or roadblocks to faster suicides? Lobbyists played both sides in Maine & Oregon legislation

Rep. Patty Hymanson (D – York) testifies in favor of her bill to legalize physician assisted suicide in the Maine House.

PORTLAND, OR & AUGUSTA, ME – Government documents show that just five days before a national group that advocates for physician assisted suicide testified in support of a Maine law that allowed physician assisted suicide after a fifteen-day waiting period, the same group was working to undermine that key safeguard in Oregon, calling the waiting period “discriminatory” in public testimony.

When Governor Janet Mills signed L.D. 1313, a bill to allow physician assisted suicide in Maine, she stressed that the law she was signing contained safeguards such as two waiting periods, one written and two oral requests, a second opinion by a consulting physician and a psychological evaluation.

Those safeguards were critical to passage of Maine’s law, which was modeled on the original Oregon “Death with Dignity Act” of 1994. In fact, the national advocacy group, Oregon-based Compassion and Choices touted the multiple safeguards in official testimony to the Maine Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee during public hearings on the bill.

Research into that legislation reveals that five days apart, representatives from Compassion and Choices on opposite ends of the country were providing official testimony to the two state legislatures that appear to contradict one another.

In Augusta, Maine on April 10th Compassion and Choices Field Director Tim Appleton touted the Maine safeguards that were based on Oregon’s law, specifically supporting the proposal’s requirements around safeguards for ensuring the mental capability of a terminally ill patient to make the decision for themselves.

“lf either the attending or consulting physician is unable to determine whether the individual has mental capacity in making the request, a mental health professional (psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed clinical social worker) must evaluate the individual and ensure that they are capable of making their own healthcare decisions prior to a prescription being written,” said Appleton, on behalf of Compassion and Choices.

But five days before Maine’s hearing, Matt Whitaker, the Director of Integrated Programs for Compassion and Choices testified in Oregon that the safeguards were too cumbersome and that the waiting period was discriminatory.

“The qualification process required under the Act as it is written today, is too long and cumbersome​,” said Whitaker. “The required consultations with the attending and consulting providers and when necessary, a mental health provider take time.”

“The mandated waiting period is discriminatory,” Whitaker told the Oregon Legislature’s Senate Committee on Judiciary.

On July 8th, less than a month after Governor Janet Mills signed Maine’s assisted-suicide bill into law, the leader of Compassion and Choices, Kim Callinan, was quoted in the New York Times saying that the fifteen-day waiting period was too difficult a roadblock.

“There’s too many roadblocks in the existing legislation,” said Ms. Callinan, whose organization has long promoted the Oregon law. “They’ve actually made it too difficult for patients to get through the process.”

On July 24th, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed legislation eliminating the fifteen-day waiting period for some patients in Oregon.

The original Maine legislation proposed by Rep. Patty Hymanson, dated March 19th, included the fifteen-day waiting period. Curiously Hymanson’s own written testimony in favor of the bill does not mention the waiting period as one of the key safeguards.

Other testimony of support, such as Rep. Michele Meyer’s testimony, also tout the safeguards and “rigorous process” that would be put in place, but does not mention the waiting period.

Both Hymanson and Meyer’s testimony highlight Oregon’s experience in a positive manner, ignoring the attempt to roll back the fifteen-day waiting period “safeguard” in Oregon’s law.

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