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Maine Death with Dignity Act probably tested by referendum

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Maine will probably have a physician-initiated death referendum in November or June. This referendum could overturn the brandnew Death with Dignity Act that was signed into law last month. Opponents of the new law have until September 18, 2019, to collect and file 63,067 valid signatures.

Because Maine is one of 23 states that provides citizens with a process for veto referendums, voters could still have the final word on physician-assisted death. Kandyce Powell, executive director of the Maine Hospice Council, filed the veto referendum after the 2019 legislative session adjourned on June 20, 2019. The veto referendum was approved for signature gathering on July 11, 2019. The veto referendum could appear on the ballot for the election on November 5, 2019, or June 9, 2020, depending on when signatures are submitted and verified. 


Earlier, such a referendum was organised in order to legalize physician-assisted death in Maine. In April 2018, when Maine had a divided government, the group Maine Death with Dignity launched a ballot initiative to legalize physician-assisted death in the state. Maine Death with Dignity collected around 72,000 signatures (about 9,000 more than required) for the ballot initiative but decided against submitting signatures after Go v. Janet Mills signed LD 1313 last June. In 2000, an earlier physician-assisted death ballot initiative was rejected by voters in Maine, with 51.3 percent voting to reject the measure. Three of the states that have a Death With Dignity Act (Colorado (2016), Oregon (1994), and Washington (2008)) authorized physician-assisted death through citizen-initiated ballot measures. 


Since Maine adopted the referendum process in 1908, there have been 30 veto referendums on the ballot. The last veto referendum was in 2018 when voters overturned legislation designed to postpone and repeal ranked-choice voting. Of the 30 bills placed before voters as veto referendums, 18 of
them (60 percent) were overturned at the ballot box. Voters upheld 12 (40 percent) of the bills.

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