Maine assisted-suicide bill reaches governor's desk; would be 8th state to legalize option for terminally ill

A Maine bill to legalize assisted suicide advanced to the governor's desk Tuesday after the state Senate backed the proposal one day after passage in the House. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has 10 days to act on the bill, which would allow doctors to prescribe a fatal dose of medication to terminally ill patients. She has not indicated whether she will sign it into law.

Maine would join at least seven other states with similar laws, according to Death With Dignity National Center and the Death With Dignity Political Fund.

Critics say the proposed legislation stifles hope and takes advantage of the vulnerable while supporters argue it ends suffering for the terminally ill.

Maine's move comes the same week the case of a 17-year-old Dutch girl who had suffered from mental illness after being raped and molested died in an assisted suicide clinic. Although it was unclear if she died from euthanasia or by refusing to eat, the story made international headlines. Pope Francis spoke out against assisted suicide, calling on people not to “abandon those who are suffering,” by allowing them to elect to be put to death.

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Maine’sSenate approved the bill 19-16 Tuesday. The state House passed the bill by a narrower margin of 73-72 on Monday. Supporters on both sides of the aisle championed the legislation for allowing the terminally ill to die with dignity.

"I hope you will come down on the side of the terminally ill, people who don't seem to be asking for too much: the right to choose their own end of life care," said state Sen. Marianne Moore, a Republican.

Critics argued the legislation's safeguards against abuse would be ineffective and leave room for doctors to make mistakes. Patients Rights Action Fund, an advocacy group for underserved patients, called on the governor to veto the bill.

“Assisted suicide public policy leaves those who already struggle to access health care – the poor, the terminally ill, persons living with disabilities, people of advanced age, and those living in remote areas - at a much higher risk for abuse, coercion and mistakes,” Matt Valliere, executive director of Patients Rights Action Fund, told Fox News.

"The so-called safeguards in this bill are hollow and fail to eliminate that risk. We call on Governor Janet Mills to veto this bill and to focus instead on improving access to quality health care for all people of Maine," he said.

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At least 18 states considered similar legislation this year, including pending bills in Delaware, Kansas, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York and Rhode Island. In 1997, Oregon became the first state to provide an end-of-life option. California's law took effect in 2016.

Fox News' Robert Gearty and the Associated Press contributed to this report.