Public hearing held on controversial physician-assisted suicide bill

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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Lots of folks came out to the State House Wednesday for the public hearing on a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide.

"I realize that this is an option that some people want, and they control their death because death is a part of life," said Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, the bill's sponsor.

The bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide enables those 18 years old and up with a terminal disease to request medication used to take their own life.

The patient must verbally and in writing request the medication 15 days after an initial request.

It also requires a second opinion by a consulting physician.

"It's sometimes possible to manage the pain or suffering of people," said former state senator Chris Johnson, who supports the bill. "It's not always possible to have them retain the control of their bodily functions, of their own ability to communicate or manage themselves so that they retain dignity at the same time. And for those that neither is possible, I can't imagine any greater anguish."

However, many people spoke in opposition to the bill, including both Republicans and Democrats, as well as medical professionals.

"I'm worried that in promoting this bill this will deprive Mainers of the hope that is introduced by these new treatments, weighing most heavily again on the uninsured, the disabled, the indigent," said Dr. Thomas Sullivan, who opposes the bill.

Opponents say passing this bill will create a dangerous system.

"The proponents will say that one of the two witnesses that is required cannot be an heir, but that doesn't mean that the other one can't be an heir of the estate," said Laura Parker, RN, who testified in opposition to the bill. "And so somebody who stands to benefit financially or to receive an inheritance is somebody who is allowed to be a witness."

The bill faces more work in committee in the coming weeks.