Mass. Health Committee Makes History: Approves End of Life Options Bill for 1st Time since 2011 Introduction
Supporters Urge Full House & Senate to Pass Compassionate Bill Supported by 71% of State Residents
Massachusetts supporters of legislation that would authorize medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option urged state lawmakers to pass the bill after the Joint Committee on Public Health approved it late Friday for the first time since it was originally introduced by Rep. Louis L. Kafka in 2011. More than seven out of 10 Massachusetts voters (71%) support medical aid in dying, according to the most recent poll on the issue in 2013 by Purple Insights.
The bill, the Massachusetts End of Life Options Act (H.4782/S.2745), would give mentally capable, terminally ill individuals with a prognosis of six months or less to live the option to request, obtain and self-ingest medication to die peacefully in their sleep if their suffering becomes unbearable. The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Louis L. Kafka and Senator William N. Brownsberger and has 69 total sponsors, including Joint Committee on Public Health co-chair, Senator Joanne M. Comerford.
“COVID-19 has shined a spotlight on the importance of a compassionate death, and we thank the public health committee for prioritizing this legislation at a time when only a handful of bills are advancing through the legislature,” said Compassion & Choices president and CEO Kim Callinan, who testified before the Joint Committee on Public Health in support of the bill at a hearing last June. “We urge legislative leaders to hold floor votes on the bill ASAP so that more Massachusetts residents will have the option of a peaceful end should their suffering become intolerable.”
During the last week, The [Northampton, MA] Daily Hampshire Gazette on Thursday, May 28, and The Berkshire Eagle on May 21 both urged lawmakers to enact the End of Life Options Act into law. The Gazette editorial concluded: “For some, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought end-of-life issues into renewed focus, as more than 6,500 lives have been lost statewide to the virus. As we’ve editorialized on these pages several times over the years, the time to pass this bill is overdue … Lawmakers must advance it.”
“I can’t tell you how much this historic vote means to me after spending the last five years advocating for this peaceful dying option on behalf of all terminally ill patients, my friends and family and on my own behalf,” said
Dr. Roger Kligler, a retired physician in Falmouth with incurable prostate cancer, who has repeatedly testified in support of the End of Life Options Act before the Joint Committee on Public Health. “COVID-19 has opened people’s eyes about the limits of modern medicine to relieve end-of-life suffering, so I plead with the legislature to adopt the public health committee’s wisdom and pass this compassionate bill ASAP.”
The Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) also testified at the hearing last June before the Joint Committee of Public Health on the bill, detailing its policy of “neutral engagement” on the practice of medical aid in dying: “The MMS will support its members regarding clinical, ethical, and legal considerations of medical aid-in-dying, through education, advocacy, and/or the provision of other resources…”
A 2017 internal survey of Massachusetts Medical Society members showed they backed the End of Life Options Act by a 2-1 margin, 62% support vs. 28% opposed (see page 9 chart at www.massmed.org/Advocacy/State-Advocacy/MAID-Survey-2017/). Other bill supporters include the ACLU of Massachusetts, Amherst Town Meeting, Boston Ethical Society, Cambridge City Council, Falmouth Board of Selectmen, Fenway Health/AIDS Action, Greater Boston Humanists, Lexington Board of Selectmen, National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Massachusetts, Northampton City Council, and Provincetown Board of Selectmen,
Medical aid in dying is authorized in 10 U.S. jurisdictions representing more than one-fifth (22%) of the nation’s population, including nine states: Oregon, Washington, Montana (via a state Supreme Court ruling), Vermont, California, Colorado, Hawai‘i, New Jersey, Maine, as well as Washington, D.C. (2017).