By Bob Katzen
The Public Health Committee held a jam-packed hearing on the controversial bill that would allow terminally ill patients with fewer than six months to live to obtain medication they can self-administer to commit suicide. The bill includes many rules and protocols that must be followed before the patient is given the medicine.
Voters defeated a similar measure on the 2012 ballot by a very slim 51 percent to 49 percent margin with 1,466,866 voting for the measure and 1,534,757 against. There were also 182,573 blank ballots of people who took a ballot but did not vote on this question.
“I first filed this bill on behalf of a constituent who was dying of stomach cancer,” said Rep. Lou Kafka (D-Sharon). “Having worked on this issue for over a decade, I have only become more passionate that this should be an option at the end of life. We can’t sit in judgement of those in such personal pain. Everyone must be allowed to make their own choice based on their own beliefs.”
“The question of assisted suicide was put before the voters of our Commonwealth in 2012, and they rejected it,” said Massachusetts Family Institute President Andrew Beckwith. “That’s because people understand that if we legalize doctors prescribing poison for certain patients to take their own lives, we would in effect codify that those lives are no longer worthy of legal protection. That would in itself be tragic, but would also set a dangerous precedent, blurring the line between natural death and medical manslaughter.”
Diane Rehm, a former National Public Radio talk show host, related her personal experience with this issue. Her husband John Rehm was afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease and sought alternatives to hospice care. His doctor told him that his only option was to stop eating, drinking, and taking his medications. “It took ten long days for him to die,” Rehm told the committee. “I was there with him watching him grimace but knowing that he did not want to be stopped on the path he was on. In the end he died a very painful elongated death which I will never ever forget.”
“This measure will replace a sanctity of life ethic with a quality of life ethic,” said Catholic Action League Executive Director C. J. Doyle. “It will deform the medical profession by making doctors participants in the death of their patients. Disturbingly, the legislation contains no requirement for the notification of family or next of kin, and no conscience clause for pharmacists. Powerful insurance companies, which already exercise a disproportionate influence on legislation and public policy, through their assets in lobbying, public relations and campaign finance, will have a financial incentive in the promotion of this practice.”
Citizens for Limited Taxation’s (CLT) Executive Director Chip Ford submitted, on his own behalf, written posthumous testimony from his partner former CLT chief Barbara Anderson who passed away in April 2016. Anderson wrote of assisted suicide in a March 2016 column, two weeks before she died following a struggle with leukemia.
“When I get angry, it’s when my own rights are attacked,” wrote Anderson. “… I want the right to choose assisted suicide should I be in a ‘ready to die’ mode. But no, despite my having left the Catholic Church 55 years ago, it still had the power to fight a ballot question that would give me personal autonomy over its religious doctrine. My own emotions don’t usually run deep, my being a rational, logical person and all, but I admit to hating the voters who said no to the recent ‘death with dignity’ ballot question. [I] hope they live long enough to regret it.”
“The end of life options act may sound good with its ideal of person in control choosing when to end their suffering, but in reality, for far too many people, it functions like a death penalty,” said John Kelly, Director of Second Thoughts Massachusetts, a group that champions disabled persons’ rights.