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Bill to Legalize Medical Aid in Dying Advances in MA

More than 70% of Massachusetts voters support medical aid in dying, according to the most recent poll on the issue in 2013 by Purple Insights. (Gundula Vogel/Pixabay)
More than 70% of Massachusetts voters support medical aid in dying, according to the most recent poll on the issue in 2013 by Purple Insights. (Gundula Vogel/Pixabay)
June 9, 2020

BOSTON -- The Massachusetts Legislature may soon vote on the End-of-Life Options Act. The Joint Committee on Public Health recently approved the bill, the first time it was voted favorably out of committee since it first was introduced in 2011.

The act is limited to mentally capable, terminally ill people expected to die within six months. It would give them the option to get medication that would allow them to pass away in their sleep.

Dr. Roger Kligler, a retired physician in Falmouth with incurable prostate cancer, is also a long-time advocate for medical aid in dying.

"To have to die with suffering is something that most people don't want to do," Kligler said. "Over 70% of the people in Massachusetts are in favor of medical aid in dying."

Kligler is referencing the most recent poll about the issue, from 2013. He said the biggest obstacle to the bill passing is opposition from some religious groups. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow medical aid in dying.

Compassion and Choices is a nonprofit working to expand health care options for the end of life. Its Massachusetts campaign manager, Brian Monteiro, said the bill started becoming viable after one big group changed its position.

"I have to give credit to the Medical Society. When they took a neutral stance, that really got the ball rolling here," Monteiro said. "That was huge. I can't put that into words."

The Massachusetts Medical Society, the state chapter of the American Medical Association, went from opposing the bill to being neutral. They testified at a hearing about the bill last June, explaining their stance on medical aid in dying.

Kligler described how the state AMA got to this point.

"They came to an agreement that there are two groups of ethical people who feel differently," Kligler said. "They're never going to agree with each other. But the AMA shouldn't be opposed to medical aid in dying anymore."

In other words, some doctors felt that it was ethical to allow terminally ill people who face tremendous suffering the ability to alleviate their pain in dying. Others thought that giving patients this option inflicted harm and was unethical.

According to a 2017 internal survey of Massachusetts Medical Society members, about two-thirds of doctors supported the End-of-Life Options Act. The bill hasn't yet been scheduled for a vote.

Disclosure: Compassion & Choices contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Health Issues, Senior Issues, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - MA