Medical Aid-in-Dying Supporters Highlight Protections for Vulnerable Populations in End of Life Options Act

Journal articles, testimony from disability group prove medical aid in dying is no threat to vulnerable populations
September 21, 2017

Michael Martignetti, a supporter of the Mass. End of Life Options Act who lives in Lexington, Mass., and has been diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a life-shortening, progressive neuromuscular disease

In response to a legislative briefing held today at noon by opponents of the End of Life Options Act (H.1194/S.1225), bill supporters highlighted the safeguards in the legislation designed to protect vulnerable populations. The Joint Public Health Committee will hold a hearing on the legislation this Tuesday, September 26.

The bill would authorize medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option. It gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults 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.

“This legislation contains a number of safeguards to protect terminally ill patients based on 40 years of combined state experience with medical aid in dying,” said Marie Manis, Massachusetts Campaign Manager for Compassion & Choices. “In the six states (Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California and Colorado) that have authorized this option, there has never been a single case of abuse or coercion.”

According to a 2014 Purple Strategies Poll, 70 percent of Massachusetts voters support medical aid in dying as an option for terminally ill adults, including 64 percent of Catholics and 75 percent of people living with disabilities.

“I know that people like me won’t be forced to use medical aid in dying because that just isn’t how the law works and not what it’s for,” said Michael Martignetti, a Lexington resident who has been diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a life-shortening, progressive neuromuscular disease. “The law specifies that a person can’t qualify for medical aid in dying simply because they have a disability. Not everyone seems to understand this critical requirement.”

Last year, Disability Rights Oregon (DRO) testified it “has not received a complaint of exploitation or coercion of an individual with disabilities in the use of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act.”

And according to a Journal of Medical Ethics report about the Oregon Death with Dignity Act:

“Rates of assisted dying in Oregon…showed no evidence of heightened risk for vulnerable populations, including: “the elderly, women, the uninsured…people with low educational status, the poor, the physically disabled or chronically ill, minors, people with psychiatric illnesses including depression, or racial or ethnic minorities, compared with background populations.”

“It’s important people understand what this law does – it simply gives  a terminally ill person options at the end of his or her life,” said Rebekah Gewirtz, Executive Director of the Massachusetts chapter of theNational Association of Social Workers. “As a society, we should treat those who are terminally ill in a dignified, humane, and supportive way by honoring their wishes and supporting their decision making – not by forcing them to suffer against their will.”

The End of Life Options Act was introduced in January by Rep. Louis Kafka (D-8th Norfolk district), and Sen. Barbara L’Italien (D-2nd Essex & Middlesex district). If enacted into law, it would make Massachusetts the eighth jurisdiction in the nation to authorize medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option. Oregon, where medical aid in dying has been authorized for two decades since 1997, has been joined since then by Washington, Montana, Vermont, California, Colorado, and Washington, D.C.

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