Massachusetts lawmakers consider legalizing physician-assisted dying


Almost a decade after voters narrowly dismissed a ballot question to legalize physician-assisted dying, state lawmakers are once again ready to delve into emotional testimonies, ethical debates and claims. logistical questions around the issue.

Ahead of a Friday Public Health Committee hearing on bills (H 2381, S 1384) that would allow terminally ill patients who meet certain criteria to request and be prescribed a lethal dose of drug to end in their days, supporters and opponents each organized video calls to make their case.

Donors, including some patients with incurable diseases who wish they could make decisions about their end of life, present the policy as a way to alleviate pain and suffering when death is imminent and note that 10 more states adopted a version of the measure.

Those who oppose it warn of the potential disparate impacts on people with disabilities, people of color and those who cannot afford life-prolonging treatments, and say palliative and home care should rather be made more accessible.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic is also part of the discussions.

Kim Callinan of Compassion & Choices, a national group that supports legislation on physician-assisted dying, said the pandemic “has demonstrated the fragility of our lives and also the limits of modern medicine in alleviating end-of-life suffering. life”.

Meanwhile, palliative care physician Dr Laura Patrillo said the latest push for legislation came “literally at the worst possible time” to implement policy that would require thoughtful planning on the part of the system. health worker who is still reeling from COVID-19.

“We are in the midst of a global pandemic and are thinner than ever before,” she said. “The public perception of science and medicine is more strained and the relationship is more strained than it has ever been. We are losing staff and the people who are still there are exhausted and exhausted. The administration of health care is completely taxed.

Versions of bills have been tabled in Beacon Hill for years. Last year, the Public Health Committee reformulated and advanced the bills to the Health Care Funding Committee, which took no further action on them.

Callinan said this session’s legislation has more than 80 cosponsors, including Rep. Ted Phillips, who drafted the bill’s first draft in 2008 as a staff member of his longtime legislative supporter, the former representing Louis Kafka.

“This bill is not for everyone,” Phillips said. “We have worked very, very hard over the years to make it very clear in the legislation that there is no ambiguity around who this bill affects, that this decision cannot be made for you. This decision would be yours alone.

Phillips said those interested in seeking medical assistance in dying should ‘jump through the hoops’ – including asking two doctors to confirm they have terminal illness and are expected to die within six months. , being considered “sane” and making the request on two separate occasions, with a delay in between.

Opponents fear that people will feel compelled to make these demands.

In an appeal organized by the Patient Rights Action Fund, Stephanie Packer, a mother in California – one of the states that has legalized physician-assisted dying – said her health insurance had it informed once that she refused to cover her “extended life treatment” for scleroderma, but she could have obtained medication to end her life for a co-payment of $ 1.20.

“There is so much fear out there, and to hear that the drugs that might give me strength, that might help me take care of my family, that might help me live long enough to see my kids do amazing things, that these I wouldn’t have any way to access it, but if I wanted to, I could pay a dollar and miss it all, just because it’s cheaper, ”he said. she declared.

Those wishing to see a physician-assisted dying policy in place described their distress at not having this option available.

Lee Marshall, a Gloucester resident, who has stage four metastatic breast cancer, said she had a prognosis of “less than a year” and may enter hospice care soon.

“I want more time to be stupid with my husband Paul and my friends. I want more time to dance, joke, make pottery and enjoy nature walks, ”she said. “I thought I would live to be 80, but I probably won’t see 70. I am terrified of the lingering pain that will leave me with no pleasure in life and no option to say enough is enough. “

Marshall testified on earlier versions of the bill, as did Dr. Roger Kligler, a retired physician with incurable metastatic prostate cancer.

Kligler listed the names of those who had appeared before lawmakers previously to support the legislation and have since died, including the late Representative Chris Walsh. Kligler said if lawmakers waited, any action on the issue could also come too late for him, Marshall, or maybe “someone you know or love.”

“It is time for the legislature to act, and I implore them to do so,” he said.

Massachusetts voters in 2012 rejected a question on physician-assisted dying by a margin of 67,891 votes, with 48.9% for and 51.1% against.

Boston-based disability advocate John Kelly, who is director of Second Thoughts Massachusetts and regional director of Not Dead Yet, said the voting cards for that ballot question showed the numbers weren’t even there. statewide. Brookline approved the measure with 67% in favor, he said, while Lawrence voted 69% against.

“These laws place the perspective of a professional class obsessed with personal autonomy, achievement and status – hence the focus on the word ‘dignity’ – over the worldview of a working class that believes in family, connection and respect for elders, “he said.” By undermining the value placed on the elderly, sick and disabled, these bills encourage the devaluation of people as having too low a quality of life. “

In the nine years since the issue was put to voters, supporters have “tightened” the bill, said Rep. Jim O’Day, who tabled the House version this year. O’Day said he expects this work “to really make a huge difference” and that the latest bill contains definitions – like details of why a person would be considered phased. terminal – which, he hopes, will reassure critics.

O’Day said he wished the bill had been law when his father was at the end of his life.

“We had had this kind of conversation, and he was really convinced that he had the opportunity, to have this ability to make the decision for yourself, and as we drafted the bill, in consultation with the staff. medical and those who make sure the person is at full capacity, ”he said.

O’Day is a division chairman on President Ronald Mariano’s leadership team, and Phillips said he appreciates him being a member of the House leadership “carrying this bill.”

“We are confident this is the year when we can finally get there,” he said.

End-of-life bills are the only items on the agenda for Friday’s public health committee hearing, which will be televised live and is expected to start at 9 a.m.


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