Mass. Health Committee Makes History by Approves End of Life Options Bill for First Time Since 2011 Introduction

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 afternoon for the first time since it was originally introduced by Rep. Louis L. Kafka in 2011. The committee approved the legislation by a vote of11 to 6. 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.1926/S.1208), 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.” 

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, and  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, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, as well as Washington, D.C. (2017).

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