Maine Voices: ‘Death with dignity’ bill well-meaning, but overlooks drawbacks

Last year, Betty Brown, my elderly Aunt Izzy’s best “friend,” was sentenced to up to 10 years in a West Virginia prison for financial exploitation of an elderly person. As my aunt’s heart failed, Ms. Brown had insinuated herself into every aspect of her life. She took her to doctor’s appointments and church, helped her organize her finances and eventually became her power of attorney.

At the same time, Ms. Brown drew down my aunt’s bank accounts and convinced Aunt Izzy to name Ms. Brown as the sole inheritor of her land and home. There is little doubt in my mind that if Aunt Izzy lived in Maine and the measures proposed under L.D. 347, the “death with dignity” bill, were in place, Betty Brown would have tried to convince my aunt to take her own life.

I share this very personal story not because it is a rare occurrence, but because it is all too common. As a practicing physician in Maine for 32 years, I have seen the best and worst of human behavior directed toward those with terminal illnesses. Inheritances are often at stake. Bills are mounting. Patients worry about pain. Depression may cloud judgment. Every aspect of a dysfunctional family may become magnified.

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