- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine’s Democratic-controlled House of Representatives endorsed a bill Monday that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication to patients who have a limited time left to live, but the proposal is headed for defeat unless supporters can convince at least one senator to change his or her vote.

The House voted 76-70 in support of Republican Sen. Roger Katz’s bill, which is modeled after legislation Vermont passed two years ago. The vote followed an 18-17 rejection a few hours earlier in the Republican-led Senate, where some lawmakers said they feared it would send the message that Maine doesn’t value all human life.

“When we as a state and a society say that suicide is wrong and tragic in most cases but acceptable for others, we tell those others that they are more expendable,” said Republican Sen. Amy Volk. “And for those with terminal illnesses who do not want to take their own lives, that message may be harder and harder to ignore.”

Supporters said terminally ill patients should be free to end their suffering and have a peaceful death on their own terms. For some patients, having the means to end their own life can provide them with a feeling of peace and control about their death, even if they don’t end up using the medication, supporters said.

“We spend a lot of time in these halls extolling the importance of individual liberty. But what could be a more personal choice than this? What could be a greater libertarian act?” said Democratic Rep. Erik Jorgensen.

The bill faces further votes in both chambers. If the House and Senate are unable to settle their differences, the bill will die.

The practice is legal in five states: Oregon, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington. A similar bill recently approved by California’s Democratic-controlled Senate awaits further consideration.

The bill outlines several steps a patient would have to take in order to receive such medication. Among other conditions, it requires them to get at least two physicians to confirm they have a limited amount of time left to live. The bill also states that doctors who disagree with the policy don’t have to provide lethal medication.

Katz acknowledged that the bill could potentially present many challenges. But he said that many of the fears raised in other states - such as concerns that it would be abused by people who aren’t eligible - haven’t materialized. Since Oregon’s law was approved in 1997, about 750 people have used lethal prescriptions to end their own lives.

But Republican Rep. Deb Sanderson said the safeguards in the bill don’t ease her concerns that the measure is a dangerous road for Maine to go down.

“Is this just a door we are starting to open? Where do we go from here? How much further will we take this? I think it’s rather frightening to think about,” she said.

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Follow Alanna Durkin at https://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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