Massachusetts

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2019-2020 Doctor-Prescribed Suicide Bills
S 2745 (Latest version of S 1208 as amended on 5/30/20)
Text of S 2745

H 1926
S  1208
Both bills are identical
Analysis of H 1926 and S 1208
Text of H 1926
Text of S 1208

“Letter: Suicide should not be pushed as a solution right now”
(Taunton Daily Gazette — April 3, 2020)
“As we face the worst of this pandemic, vulnerable people are already anxious about care being rationed, but with suicide on the menu as a supposed “medical treatment” that anxiety will only grow.”
(The author is the former president of the Massachusetts Medical Society.)

“As I See It: Assisted suicide threatening and unnecessary”
(Telegram — Worcester, Massachusetts — August 23, 2019)
The bill details whose lives are acceptable to kill — for now–  until “safeguards” are deemed “barriers to access” and removed, expanding whose lives we will allow to terminate.

2017 Doctor-Prescribed Suicide Bills

(Both bills carried over to 2018 but did not pass.)
On March 26, 2018, the Health Committee ordered further examination of the legislation, effectively killing the bills for the current session.
House Docket No. 950 (Now numbered H 1194)
Text
Analysis
and
SD 744  (Now numbered S 1225) The texts and analyses of the House and Senate bills are identical.
Text

2017
“AG, O’Keefe seek dismissal of right-to-die case”
(Cape Cod Times — January 10, 2017)
A push by two Cape physicians for the right to use medical assistance in dying doesn’t belong in the courts, according to Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey….
The law firm representing the two physicians worked with Boston-based legal firm Morgan Lewis to help Denver-based Compassion & Choices file the suit.

2015
A doctor-prescribed suicide bill (House No. 1991) titled the “Massachusetts Compassionate Care for the Terminally Act,” was filed in Massachusetts.
The bill failed to pass by the June 30, 2016 deadline.
Text of House No. 1991
Analysis of House No. 1991

Scroll down for news articles about Massachusetts.

Current law regarding assisted suicide

Assisted suicide, including doctor-prescribed suicide, is a common law crime in Massachusetts.

Background

In Massachusetts, more people die annually from suicide than from motor vehicle accidents.  [CDC National Vital Statistics Reports, Apr. 24, 2008] In 2007, the state’s suicide rate (8.0 per 100,000 people) was almost three times higher than the homicide rate (2.9 per 100,000 people).

According to Elder Abuse Daily, more than 1 in 10 Massachusetts elder are victims of abuse.

Failed attempts to permit doctor-prescribed suicide

Bills were proposed in:
1995 (H 3173)
1997 (H 1543)
2009 (H 1468)
2011 (H 2233)
2012 Question 2 (voter initiative) Analysis of Question 2
2013 – 2014 (H 1998)
2015-2016 (H 1991)

On Tuesday, November 6, 2012, Massachusetts citizens defeated a measure (Question 2) that would have permitted doctor-prescribed suicide.The ballot question cannot be put before voters again until 2018.  However, in 2013, proponents then introduced a doctor-prescribed suicide bill, H1998, in the legislature. That bill also failed.
Text and analysis of 2013 assisted-suicide bill

Articles:

“The Mass. Legislature must say ‘no’ to assisted suicide”
(Boston Globe — January 16, 2018)
The bill requires no official witness at the death, creating opportunities for foul play. Especially vulnerable will be the 10 percent of Massachusetts adults over the age of 60 estimated to be abused each year, almost always by family members. A caregiver or heir to an estate can witness a person’s request, pick up the prescription and then administer the lethal dose without worry of investigation — the bill immunizes everyone involved.

“Mass. Medical Society drops opposition to physician assisted suicide”
(Mass Live — December 2, 2017)
The Massachusetts Medical Society has rescinded its opposition to physician-assisted suicide and adopted a “neutral engagement” position….The MMS  has had a policy against physician-assisted suicide since 1996, but recently surveyed its 25,000 members on the issue.
[Note:  According to the Cape Cod Times, 60 percent of doctors or medical students responding to the survey favored prescribing lethal doses to terminally ill patients.  However, only 12 percent of those surveyed responded to the survey.  Thus, only 1,800 of the 25,000 Massachusetts Medical Society members indicated that they favored physician-assisted suicide. ]

“Short and Strong: John Kelly’s Testimony in Massachusetts”
(Not Dead Yet — October 16, 2017)
Cost-cutting is in the news.  Given this reality, assisted suicide takes choices away.
It’s no choice when:
One out of every 10 elders in Massachusetts is abused every year, almost always by adult children and caregivers.
When no official witness is required at the death and an heir can help sign you up, pick up the prescribed overdose, and then take action against you with guaranteed immunity.
More on Disability Perspective

“Mass. Medical Society opposes ‘death with dignity’ bills”
(MassLive — September 26, 2017)
The Massachusetts Medical Society has reaffirmed its long-standing opposition to doctor-assisted suicide as the state legislature’s Public Health Committee holds a hearing on proposed legislation that would allow it in certain circumstances.

“Sad to see doctors group rethinking end-of-life stance”
(Boston Globe — January 11, 2017)
“Providing a dying patient with a lethal prescription is only cosmetically different than handing the patient a loaded gun.”

“AG, O’Keefe seek dismissal of right-to-die case”
(Cape Cod Times — January 10, 2017)
A push by two Cape physicians for the right to use medical assistance in dying doesn’t belong in the courts, according to Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey….
The law firm representing the two physicians worked with Boston-based legal firm Morgan Lewis to help Denver-based Compassion & Choices file the suit.

“There Are Sensible Reasons Why Voters Rejected Question 2”
(Boston Globe — July 22, 2013)
Finances will inevitably affect decision-making. Thousands of Massachusetts elders are abused every year, so it’s naive to think that all families are loving and supportive….Dignity does not come at the bottom of a glass of 100 Seconal capsules.

STUNNING UPSET IN MASSACHUSETTS (November 7, 2012)

“Question 2: End of life measure prompts fierce debate”
(Dorchester Reporter — November 5, 2012)
According to Second Thoughts: People with Disabilities Opposing the Legalization of Assisted Suicide, the only way to make a proposal like Question 2 acceptable would be to make the safeguards “so onerous, so strict” that it would be unfeasible, according to John Kelly, the group’s director.

“Bioethicist Endorses Mass. Assisted Suicide Bill in a Sloppy and Intellectually Lazy Essay”
(Not Dead Yet — November 2, 2012)
The organizations pushing legalization of assisted suicide are sophisticated and well-funded. And, like many advocacy organizations, they are following an incrementalist strategy in terms of their policy goals. Through polling, focus groups and experience, they’ve developed a vocabulary about these topics that draws a favorable response from the public. And, for the moment, the more “respectable” groups are sticking to policy that is allegedly limited to people who are “terminally ill.”

“Will Massachusetts Legalize Assisted Suicide?”
(PBS — November 1, 2012)
Contains link to video, “The Suicide Plan Preview”

“Question 2 Brings Contentious Campaign in Complex, Morality Issue”
(Chelsea Record — November 1, 2012)
As a disabled person, it’s scary to see people proposing a law where people will want to kill themselves to avoid the life I lead.

“Liberals should be wary of assisted suicide”
(Washington Post — November 1, 2012)
Many liberals and progressives with whom I agree on many questions support the Death with Dignity idea….
And, in any event, my strongest objections to physician-assisted suicide do not rest on my philosophical inclinations, but on worries that many others, including liberals, might share: …. (3) a worry about how physician-assisted suicide would interact with the need to curb costs in our medical system.

“Grace Ross: What Physician-Assisted Suicide Means to You”
(Go Local Worcester — October 31, 2012)
I don’t know about you, but the term “Physician Assisted” conjures in my mind the presence of a doctor overseeing each step in the process.
Here’s the problem. This law does not require an ongoing relationship with a physician – a relationship where the physician would know a history, say, of depression. You could shop around, find a physician who will give you the drugs, get a prescription for the drugs…and gives you enough of a narcotic to kill yourself, guaranteed, if you take it in one dose.

“Suicide by Choice? Not So Fast”
(New York Times — October 31, 2012)
My problem, ultimately, is this: I’ve lived so close to death for so long that I know how thin and porous the border between coercion and free choice is, how easy it is for someone to inadvertently influence you to feel devalued and hopeless — to pressure you ever so slightly but decidedly into being “reasonable.” to unburdening others, to “letting go.”

“By Any Other Name: Physician-Assisted Suicide”
(Over 65 blog — Daniel Callahan — October 31, 2012)
“The Patient [may obtain from a physician] medication that the patient may self-administer to end his or her life in a humane and dignified manner.” Well, that sounds suspiciously identical to the dictionary definition of suicide: “the action of killing oneself deliberately.”

“Our view: No on Question 2, Yes on Question 3”
(Gloucester Times — October 31, 2012)
While certainly arguable, Question 2 is not the answer. The law would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to terminally ill adult patients given six months or less to live. On the surface, it’s a reasonable approach to the issue of patients and physician-assisted suicide. Dig a little deeper however, and serious flaws appear.

“Ted Kennedy’s wife comes out against assisted suicide in Massachusetts”
(Daily Called — October 30, 2012)
The widow of longtime Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy has emerged as a leading opponent of a Massachusetts ballot initiative that would legalize physician-assisted suicide.
“Most of us wish for a good and happy death, with as little pain as possible, surrounded by loved ones, perhaps with a doctor and/or clergyman at our bedside,” Kennedy wrote. “But under Question 2, what you get instead is a prescription for up to 100 capsules, dispensed by a pharmacist, taken without medical supervision, followed by death, perhaps alone.”

“Poll: Shift on ‘death with dignity'”
(Sentinel and Enterprise — October 30, 2012)
While auto repair information access and medical marijuana ballot questions continue to enjoy voter support, a proposal to allow chronically ill residents to take life-ending medications appears to be losing support.
According to Suffolk University/7News poll results released Tuesday, the life-ending medication proposal is favored by 47 percent and opposed by 41 percent, a considerably closer margin than the 37-point spread shown in a poll taken in September.

“Physician-Assisted Suicide Is Not Progressive”
(The Atlantic — Ira Byock — October 2012)
In today’s “Newspeak” the Hemlock Society morphed into Compassion and Choices, which promotes “death with dignity” and objects to the word “suicide,” preferring “aid-in-dying” and “self-deliverance.” These terms sound more wholesome, but the undisguised act is a morally primitive, socially regressive, response to basic human needs.

“Four Myths About Doctor-Assisted Suicide”
(New York Times —  Ezekiel Emanuel — October 27, 2012)
In a little more than a week voters in Massachusetts will decide whether to allow doctors to “prescribe medication, at the request of a terminally ill patient meeting certain conditions, to end that person’s life.”  A similar bill is being debated in New Jersey. Unfortunately, like so many health care questions, the debate about physician-assisted suicide is confused, characterized by four major falsehoods.

Whom does legalizing assisted suicide really benefit? Well-off, well-educated people, typically suffering from cancer, who are used to controlling everything in their lives — the top 0.2 percent. And who are the people most likely to be abused if assisted suicide is legalized?  The poor, poorly educated, dying patients who pose a burden to their relatives.

“Driscoll: There’s no ‘dignity’ in suicide”
(MetroWest Daily News — October 28, 2012)
As we enable those dying, who fear losing control, or becoming a burden upon our loved ones, to take their own lives, might we blindly, collectively be encouraging them, too? I wonder if we aren’t mistaking as compassion what should really be seen as a sad grim concession, a signal of surrender to expedience. I’m suggesting we stop and give these questions some though before we answer Question 2.

“Vicki Kennedy speaks out against physician-assisted suicide”
(South Coast Today — October 27, 2012)
The widow of Sen. Edward Kennedy is speaking out against a question on the Nov. 6 ballot legalizing physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients…
Kennedy takes issue with the ballot question’s specification that it apply to those with a life expectancy of six months or less.
“When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer, he was told he had only two to four months to live, that he’d never get back to the United States Senate, that he should get his affairs in order….But the prognosis was wrong. Teddy lived 15 more productive months.

“Physician-assisted suicide up for vote in Mass.”
(CBS News — October 27, 2012)
Dr. Marcia Angell, a medical ethicist at Harvard Medical School and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, support the bill.  Dr. Richard Aghababian, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society which also owns and publishes the New England Journal, said in a statement, he opposes the bill.

“HMS Panel Considers ‘Death with Dignity’ Ballot Question”
(The Harvard Crimson — October 26, 2012)
At Thursday afternoon’s public forum at the Harvard Medical School, a panel of two medical and two legal experts explained the issues surrounding Question 2 on this November’s general election ballot for Massachusetts, known as the “Death with Dignity” Initiative. All four panelists at the forum supported the initiative.

“Assisted Suicide Goes To Vote In Massachusetts”
(NPR — October 25, 2012)
Disability rights activist John Kelly says legalized suicide sends a damaging message that certain lives aren’t worth living. He’s also concerned that death by prescription will appeal to a health care system focused on the bottom line. “With cost controls, hospitals losing money, profit-making insurance companies, we’re always hearing about the incredible expense in the last year of life, And this is a way to save that money,” Kelly said.

“Waltham mayor, councilors say they will all vote ‘no’ to physician-assisted suicide ballot question”
(Boston.com — October 24, 2012)
Waltham’s leaders said in a statement that they oppose the bill’s language, which allows for physician-assisted suicide without consulting a psychiatrist, notifying family members, or having a doctor present during the act.

“Senator Richard Moore Urges ‘No’ Vote on Physician-Assisted Suicide”
(Milford Patch — October 23, 2012)
Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge) is urging constituents to vote no on Question 2.  Moore is joining a rapidly expanding list of lawmakers, medical community organizations, clergy and other groups who say Question 2 is deeply flawed and lacks critical safeguards for protecting patients.

“Vote ‘no’ on Question 2”
(Telegram — Worcester, MA — October 21, 2012)
Although the measure is touted as voluntary, so no doctor or health-care facility that objects would be required to participate, establishing a “right” to kill oneself could conceivable bring us closer to a legal battle over whether such a “right” is one that no physician could legally refuse to extend to his or her patients.

“Too many flaws in Question 2”
(Sentinel & Enterprise — October 19, 2012)
Question 2 advocates say that it is all about “choice,” but in reality Question 2 will limit choice, because it incentivizes insurers to restrict, or even deny, coverage. In today’s cost-cutting environment, where health-care-options are limited, many people already struggle with this.

“What about do no harm? Suicide is not health care and prescribing death is not a doctor’s role”
(Boston Globe — October 17, 2012)
Question 2’s provisions are highly arbitrary, as even its proponents acknowledge… Why such capricious line-drawing?  Because, says Angell, that is the only way to make assisted suicide “politically acceptable.”

“Question 2 sponsors say measure isn’t “assisted suicide”
(Patriot Ledger — October 16, 2012)
“This is not about life versus death,” Dr. Marcia Angell of Dignity 2012 said Tuesday in a Patriot Ledger editorial board interview. “This is about the manner of death.”

“Column: Vote no on Questions 2”
(The Salem News — October 13, 2012)
Finally, if Death with Dignity passes, patients will be at greater risk to predatory insurance practices…. Given the option of assisted suicide, insurance companies may limit other treatments to cut cost. That means that patients, when weighing treatment options, may be influenced to commit suicide bt insurance providers.

“Physician-Assisted Suicide: Why Medical Ethics Must Sometimes Trump the Patient’s Choice”
(Psych Central — October 7, 2012)
Followup to the September 30, 2012 Psych Central article by the same author.

“Doctors’ group opposes end-of-life ballot question”
(Wicked Local — Statehouse News Service — October 2, 2012)
The Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians on Tuesday announced its opposition to a ballot question allowing certain terminally ill patients to take life-ending medication.  More than 1,000 family doctors are part of the academy, which joins the Mass Medical Society and the Mass. Osteopathic Society in opposition to Question 2.

“Merciful Assistance or Physician-Assisted Killing?”
(Psych Central — September 30, 2012)
Imagine that your father, age 85, has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and given only three months to live. Fortunately, he is still well enough to walk, and finds himself one night near a tall bridge…Suddenly, he sees his very own physician, Dr. Jones, walking by. He begs Dr. Jones to help him climb atop the railing, adding,”Don’t worry Doc, it will be my decision to jump”….From a strictly ethical perspective, I believe physicians have no more business helping patients kill themselves with lethal drugs than they do helping patients jump off bridges — regardless of how “voluntary” the patient’s decision may be.

“Social workers support ‘Death with Dignity’ ballot question”
(Wicked Local — Wareham, MA — September 24, 2012)
The Massachusetts chapter [of the National Association of Social Workers] board members met with proponents and opponents of Question 2 and decided to express “strong support” for the initiative petition after their deliberations.

“Discussing the ‘Death with Dignity’ Law”
(Sharon Patch — Sharon, MA — September 21, 2012)
An old friend of mine relates the story of a doctor that told him six years ago that his mother had, at most, “six months to live.”  My friend, and his father, didn’t buy it. They changed doctors and moved the woman to a different facility.  Yesterday, my friend joined his mother for lunch over a plate of Chinese food.

“Disabilities group has ‘Second Thoughts’ on assisted suicide”
(Boston Pilot — August 31, 2012)
A group of Massachusetts residents with disabilities opposing legalized assisted suicide are asking Massachusetts voters to have “second thoughts” when they vote on Question 2 in November.
Second Thoughts says it encourages voters “to look at assisted suicide in the real world” which it says is one “where insurance companies and other organizations try to limit spending on health care.”

“Leading Massachusetts doctors go mano a mano over assisted suicide”
(BioEdge — August 4, 2012)|
The clock in the Bay State is important. If voters approve the referendum, other New England states could follow suit. The state has a strong medical tradition.  The Massachusetts Medical Society is the oldest of its kind in the US.  Ironically, it is the publisher of the New England Journal of Medicine, which supports assisted suicide and is the country’s leading medical journal.

“Dr. Barbara Rockett: Physician-assisted suicide ‘in direct conflict’ with doctor’s role”
(Boston Globe — July 31, 2012)
“One of the most difficult and often inadequate determinations that a physician has to make is the attempt to predict when a patient might die. An example of this occurred when my husband, a neurosurgeon, saw a patient who had been operated on by the renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. Harvey Cushing for the most malignant type of brain tumor…He was told that he had six months to live, so he spent his savings doing all the things he had hoped to do in life….That was 40 years before my husband saw him.

“Death panels on steroids”
(Daily Caller — July 25, 2012)
On its pages, the NEJM has long featured articles favoring euthanasia and assisted suicide as well as health care rationing.  Indeed, two of its former editors, Dr. Arnold Relman and Dr, Marcia Angell are vocal advocates of eliminating the private health system and replacing it with a single-payer, government-controlled health system. And both are among the 14 subscribing petitioners on a doctor-prescribed suicide initiative that will appear on the November 2012 ballot in Massachusetts.

“Push for ‘death with dignity’ in Massachusetts picks up steam”
(American Medical News — July 16, 2012)
The American Medical Association and the Massachusetts Medical Society oppose physician-assisted suicide….In testimony before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary, Lynda Young, MD, then-president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, noted that the society’s house of delegates reaffirmed its opposition to doctor-assisted suicide by an “overwhelming” majority.

“Assisted dying, without the doctor?”
(Boston Globe — July 12, 2012)
Dr. Linda Yong former president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, speaking  in March to a legislative committee considering assisted suicide, cited the American Medical Association’s long standing policy opposing assisted suicide.
In an article published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Lisa Soleymani Lehmann and research assistant Julian Prokopetz propose a policy they say could distance doctors from the process.

“‘Death with Dignity’ in Massachusetts”
(National Review Online — June 4, 2012)
Abdelbaset a-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, died of prostate cancer on May 20.  Nearly three years earlier, on August 20, 2009,  Scottish authorities had released him on compassionate grounds so he could return home to die.  At that time, he was thought to have three months to live…. Referring to the proposed Massachusetts bill that would permit doctor-prescribed suicide, John Kelly, director of the disability rights group Second Thoughts, said, “People will be encouraged to assume that being ‘terminally ill’ is a biological fact rather that a human guess.”

“Massachusetts Debates ‘Death with Dignity'”
(New York Times — May 29, 2012)
The memorial service for Michael Southerland recently drew more than 200 people to the Unitarian Society where friends, neighbors and co-workers offered funny and moving stories, sand, cried and hugged his family. They also circulated petitions to put a “death with dignity” law on the Massachusetts ballot. The forms awaited signatures at the back of the hall, next to the guest book. His widow said, “People suffering from A.L.S. provide a good talking point” for the campaign to pass the law.

“‘Death with Dignity’ on the Massachusetts Ballot”
(American Thinker — May 6, 2012)
One of the organizers recounted events surrounding her father’s assisted suicide death in Oregon:  “They served him haystack Bread, from a Cannon Beach bakery, topped with his wife’s homemade raspberry jam. Around 8:30 that night, after everyone had said their goodbyes, he drank the Seconal solution from one of his favorite Scotch glasses.”

“‘Second Thoughts’ Grow on Assisted Suicide”
(Wall Street Journal — April 2, 2012)
In Massachusetts, the disability advocates call their opposition group “Second Thoughts.”  They say that assisted suicide may sound like a good idea at first, but on second thought the risks of mistake, coercion and abuse are too great to warrant legal immunity for doctors or others who assisted suicide.