Mass. Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill Reintroduced with New Lead Sponsors and Urgency to Pass It

Supporters Say Pass This Compassionate Legislation Now!
February 8, 2021

Compassion & Choices Action Network today praised Massachusetts lawmakers for reintroducing the End of Life Options Act (SD 801/HD 1456) and urged the Legislature to pass the popular bill to prevent any more terminally ill residents from needlessly suffering or not having full autonomy over their death. 

“There is no miracle that will rid me of my cancer and the multiple tumors throughout my body,” said Gloucester psychotherapist Lee Marshall, RN, who has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. “Massachusetts’ medical aid-in-dying bill is my best hope for a peaceful death.”

According to a Boston Globe-Suffolk University poll published last September, 7 out of 10 Massachusetts residents (70%) support the End of Life Options Act, including a majority in each region of the state (Worcester/Western Massachusetts: 70%, Suffolk County: 75%, Southeast Massachusetts/Cape: 68%). These results mirror a 2014 Purple Insights survey that also showed 70% of Massachusetts voters support medical aid in dying, including a majority of Catholics (64%) and people with disabilities (75%).

While there have been no state polls on this issue since COVID-19, the most recent Gallup poll, conducted in May 2020, shows 74% of Americans support medical aid in dying, a six-point jump from the 68% support in Gallup’s pre-pandemic poll conducted in May 2019 (see question 15 on page 2). The 74% support level includes a majority of every demographic group measured in the survey (see question QN15 on page 4).

“COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of life and the limits of modern medicine to relieve suffering, especially at the

Kim Callinan

Compassion & Choices President/CEO Kim Callinan

end of life,” said Kim Callinan, president and CEO of Compassion & Choices Action Network and Compassion & Choices. “During the last decade, the End of Life Option Act sponsors have repeatedly modified this popular bill by adding safeguards to address their colleagues’ concerns. We respectfully urge lawmakers to make passing this compassionate legislation a top priority in 2021.”

Last May, the Joint Committee on Public Health favorably reported out the End of Life Options Act for the first time since the original legislation was introduced in 2011. Despite the worsening pandemic, The Boston Globe, Daily Hampshire Gazette, and Berkshire Eagle wrote editorials between May and December 2020 urging the Legislature to enact the End of Life Options Act.

“As Senate Chair of the Public Health Committee last session, I had the opportunity to dig into the medical aid-in-dying legislation and listen deeply to Commonwealth residents,” says Jo Comerford (D-Northampton). “We heard harrowing stories from people whose relatives suffered during their last days, and we heard about the need to provide a voluntary medical option for terminally-ill people to control the timing and manner of their death. This bill protects all patients, affords dying people autonomy and compassion during the most difficult time, and protects potentially vulnerable people from any coercion.”

A 2017 internal survey of Massachusetts Medical Society members showed they support the End of Life Options Act by a 2-1 margin: 62 percent support vs. 28 percent oppose (see page 9 chart here). As a result, the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) voted in 2018 to drop its opposition to the End of Life Options Act and adopt a position of “engaged neutrality” for the first time in the bill’s history, and reaffirmed that position in 2019 hearing testimony

“The MMS defines medical aid-in-dying as the act of providing care — palliative, hospice, compassionate — to patients at the end of life… The MMS adopts the position of neutral engagement, serving as a medical and scientific resource to inform legislative efforts that will support patient and physician shared

decision making regarding medical aid-in-dying…” 

The longtime champion of the End of Life Options Act, Rep. Louis Kafka, retired at the end of the 2020 legislative session. 

“Rep. Kafka dedicated much of his legislative career to championing this important legislation, and I am honored to continue his advocacy to pass it, so that not one more terminally ill Massachusetts resident has to suffer needlessly at the end of life,” said new lead House sponsor Representative James J. O’Day (D-Worcester). “Your zip code should not determine if you have this peaceful dying option or have to suffer needlessly.” 

There are no documented cases of misuse involving medical aid in dying in the 10 U.S. jurisdictions where it has been authorized during the last two decades, starting with Oregon in 1997. The other nine jurisdictions include eight states: California (2015), Colorado (2016), Hawai‘i (2018), Maine (2019), Montana (2009 via a Montana Supreme Court ruling), New Jersey (2019), Vermont (2013), Washington (2008), as well as Washington, D.C. Collectively, these 10 jurisdictions represent more than one of out of five (22%) U.S. residents.

Compassion & Choices is comprised of two organizations that improve care and expand options at life’s end: Compassion & Choices (501(c)(3)) educates, empowers, defends, and advocates; the Compassion & Choices Action Network (501(c)(4)) focuses exclusively on legislation, ballot campaigns, and limited electoral work.

Paid for Compassion & Choices Action Network.

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