Inmate seeks assisted suicide



Larry Smith

ELLSWORTH — Cancer treatments, by most reports, are tough under the best of circumstances, but imagine if you were incarcerated and undergoing radiation and chemotherapy while shackled. Then returning to a jail cell instead of the comfort of your home.

That’s the current situation for Larry Smith, 52, of Milbridge, an inmate with throat cancer who is housed at the Hancock County Jail on charges of attempted murder and robbery. Smith allegedly shot two men at a Trenton residence on Dec. 20, 2020, according to Hancock County Sheriff’s Office investigators.

“Cancer treatment itself is difficult,” said Smith during a jailhouse interview Dec. 16. “Every little bump in the road feels like hell. They are radiating my neck. I may lose the ability to talk. I may lose the ability to taste anything. I may end up with a hole in my throat. I’ve had ups and downs with this place and the treatment. I’ve got some legal woes on top of that. It doesn’t play a big part, but it does play a part.”

Smith said he thinks his throat cancer is stage two.

The inmate said he wants to use Maine’s Death with Dignity Act to end his suffering.

The Maine Death with Dignity Act, which the Legislature passed in 2019, allows terminally ill Maine residents to receive prescription medication to end their lives in a peaceful and dignified manner, according to the Death with Dignity organization.

“Larry will be entering a plea later this week and will be sentenced,” said Ellsworth Attorney Steven Juskewitch, who represents Smith. “I guess we’re going to test the Death with Dignity Act and the Department of Corrections’ policy with it.”

Val Lovelace is the executive director of Maine Death with Dignity and says patients must be terminally ill with a six-month prognosis.

“There’s no reason he should not have access to this law, if and when that time comes for him,” said Lovelace. “He can have this conversation with a physician at any time. In order to start it, he would need a six-month prognosis.”

“One thing he could do would be to go to the American Clinicians Academy on Death and Dying and fill out the information in the patient portal,” Lovelace said.

The academy helps terminal patients who want to die get matched with a physician who will assist in writing an aid-in-dying prescription if the patient’s existing physician will not participate.

The law states that patients must be competent and deemed by two physicians to be within six months of death and capable of taking the medications themselves.

“The process entails two oral and one written request witnessed by two people and a lengthy waiting period,” according to the organization.

Lovelace estimated the cost of the prescription at $400.

“For some people, it’s really out of reach,” she said. “Medicare will not pay for it. There’s a federal law prohibiting funding of this and reproductive decisions.”

Smith doesn’t have Medicare nor Medicaid.

The federal Social Security Act prohibits Medicaid coverage for inmates, so medical costs are the responsibility of the jails and prisons, according to Lisa Haberzetti, deputy communications director for the Maine Senate Democratic Office.

So, the Hancock County Jail — and thus Hancock County taxpayers — fund Smith’s cancer treatments. In a review of the proposed 2022 jail budget with the county’s Budget Advisory Committee last fall, Sheriff Scott Kane said they tried to get Smith and a pregnant inmate released on the ankle monitoring program but weren’t able to. The jail in 2021 expended its annual medical fund in just three months with hospital bills for those two inmates, according to Jail Administrator Timothy Richardson.

Seven years ago, the jail instituted an electronic monitoring program for inmates eligible for home confinement. An ankle bracelet tracks the inmates’ locations. However, that program is not for those charged with violent crimes.

“The state’s position is that he is extremely dangerous, and we will be asking that he go to prison for a lengthy sentence if he is convicted,” said District Attorney Matt Foster. “His wife [Sherry Smith] pled guilty to similar charges as his accomplice and received a 15-year sentence with all but eight years to serve and probation after.” That sentencing was in the fall.

Investigators said Sherry Smith was accused of stabbing one of the men the couple were allegedly trying to rob.

“We believe they were after drugs and money,” Foster said at the time of the arrests. “They stole two safes.”
Smith said he’s being stripped of his dignity during the cancer treatments.

“They parade me around the cancer center dressed in orange, shackled and cuffed, looking like Hannibal Lecter, people staring and whispering,” Smith wrote in a letter to The American. “Getting strip-searched every day after treatment, getting back to my cell and it being tipped upside down from a search.”

“When I use the bathroom at the cancer center the guard comes in with me and uncuffs one hand,” Smith wrote.

“Have you ever washed your hand one handed after using the restroom or ever had someone watch you pee?”

“I’m not trying to slander the jail,” Smith said during the interview. Of the administrator, he said “his heart’s in the right place. They’re not equipped for this.”

“I can’t eat, I can’t drink, I can’t swallow,” Smith said. “I’m constantly bleeding from my throat. I throw up my pain medication because I can’t swallow.”

Sheriff Kane said on Monday, “We’re doing everything we possibly can. He’s a guy in a tough situation.”
Juskewitch said his understanding is that the Department of Corrections has a policy that inmates are not entitled to the Death with Dignity Act.

Maine Department of Corrections spokeswoman Anna Black said there haven’t yet been any corrections residents who have used the Death with Dignity Act. Black declined to comment further.

Since the legislation passed in 2019, a total of 51 Maine residents have qualified to use the program and 31 people have used the program to end their lives, according to Lovelace.

 

Correction

Val Lovelace is the executive director of Maine Death with Dignity.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected]ican.com or call 667-2576.

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