End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Supporters Call for Passage of Compassionate Aid-in-Dying Legislation in Massachusettsby Chris


(Boston, Mass. – December 17, 2013) Supporters of legislation that would allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults to choose aid in dying (HB 1998) said today they welcome public debate of end-of-life issues. At today’s hearing, they urged lawmakers to pass legislation raised by the Joint Public Health Committee.

Mickey MacIntyre, Chief Program Officer of Compassion & Choices, was joined at today’s hearing by legislators, clergy members, doctors and nurses, and people who have faced difficult end-of-life decisions. MacIntyre said nearly 20 years of experience with aid-in-dying laws in Oregon, Washington, Montana and now Vermont, have delivered clear evidence the laws work as intended. None of the problems opponents predicted have materialized.

“Doctors, patients, clergy and the public support individuals’ autonomy when making end-of-life decisions,” Macintyre said. “This law helps give peace of mind to many but few ultimately need it. Massachusetts’s residents should enjoy freedom both in how they choose to live and, when the time comes, how they choose to die.”

“It is inhuman to subject people to unnecessary, painful medical procedures at the end of their lives against their wishes,” said Massachusetts State Representative Cory Atkins. “When people’s wishes are ignored, they are hooked up to machines and given strong medications with powerful side effects, making the final days of their lives unbearable. I support this bill because it would allow people to meet their end on their own terms, in comfort and surrounded by family.”

“I support HB 1998 professionally and personally. As a clinical social worker, I have worked with many individuals as they were dying. Even with the best of care, many had pain and felt stripped of their dignity. As a woman with ovarian cancer, I would like to be able to choose what I consider to be a dignified death,” said Susan Shapiro, LICSW, of Watertown, MA.

Many dying patients suffer, even with the best care and pain management. Others fear their pain will become unbearable. Supporters of the legislation say people should have a full range of end-of-life choices, including the right to request and obtain life-ending medication.

“With dignity and pride, with intelligence and commons sense, with autonomy, choice and realistic expectations; this is how I try to live my life. This is how I would choose my death, with dignity, if confronted with a terminal illness and no hope for a cure,” said Dr. Eric Ruby of Taunton, MA.

Experience in states with explicit permission for aid in dying shows that very few patients actually request, and even fewer actually self-administer, medication. Only 673 people in Oregon have done so in 15 years since the law’s enactment. But thousands more take comfort just in knowing the option is available, according to Macintyre, who noted that end-of-life care has actually improved under the Oregon law.

The bill, HB 1998, would be based on Vermont and Washington state statutes, and would allow a terminally ill person with a diagnosis of less than six months to live, who is deemed mentally and psychologically competent, to get a prescription that can be self-administered for a humane and dignified death.

The legislation would include protections to ensure that patients are not coerced or influenced in their decision-making.

Ashley Sheridan
McDowell Jewett Communications