Mass. Joint Committee on Public Health Advances Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill

March 15, 2022

Advocates Urge Joint Committee on Public Financing to Approve Bill for Floor Votes

Compassion & Choices Action Network today praised the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Health for advancing the End of Life Options Act (S.1384/H.2381) Monday and urged the Legislature to pass this urgently needed bill for terminally ill adults in Massachusetts. Washington, D.C. and 10 states allow mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live to have the end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying to peacefully end unbearable suffering, including neighboring Maine and Vermont, but Massachusetts currently does not.

“At a day-long hearing on this bill, the Public Health Committee heard harrowing stories from people whose relatives suffered during their last days. We heard about the need to provide a voluntary medical option for terminally-ill people to control the timing and manner of their death,” said Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton), the lead sponsor of the End of Life Options Act in the Senate (S.1384) and Senate Chair of Joint Committee on Public Health. “This bill affords people who are dying both the autonomy and compassion they need and deserve and it protects potentially vulnerable people from any coercion. I am grateful for the strong advocacy which has propelled this legislation and will now work with House and Senate colleagues to push for its passage.”

“Why should we, at the end of someone’s life, take away their autonomy and comfort? This bill provides people with the opportunity to make decisions in their and their loved ones’ best interest, in the context of a terminal diagnosis,” said Leader James J. O’Day (D-West Boylston), the lead sponsor of the End of Life Options Act in the House (H.2381). “No one should go through a traumatic, difficult experience at the end of their life; individuals of sound mind must be able to make informed decisions with their family and loved ones.”Molly Walsh

“I thank the public health committee for doing the right thing for terminally ill people in Massachusetts by advancing this bill,” said Framingham resident Molly Walsh, whose 91-year-old physician father, Dr. Robert McConnell, died in agony from heart disease. “I urge the Legislature to continue to move the bill forward quickly and pass it this session. There is no good reason that people in Massachusetts shouldn’t have the same peaceful dying option that our neighbors do in Maine and Vermont.”

According to a November 2019 Boston Globe-Suffolk University poll, 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 percent 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 reached the United States in early 2020, a November 2021 national poll by Susquehanna Polling & Research poll shows 66 percent of voters in northeast states support medical aid in dying.

“COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of life and the limits of modern medicine to relieve suffering, especially at the 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 urge lawmakers to make passing this compassionate legislation a top priority in 2022.”

In 2020, 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 GlobeDaily Hampshire Gazette, and Berkshire Eagle wrote editorials between May and December 2020 urging the Legislature to enact the End of Life Options Act.

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…” 

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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