End-of-Life Choice, Death with Dignity, Palliative Care and Counseling

OUR OPINION: Legislature Should Pass Death-with-Dignity Billby Chris


By Steve Jewett – Patriot Ledger

(December 20, 2013) We’re pleased to see that the Legislature is revisiting the issue of giving terminally ill people with fewer than six months to live the right to seek a medically prescribed end to life.

The bill was recently introduced after a 2012 ballot question was rejected by Massachusetts voters by only 67,891 votes. As we did with Question 2, we commend its supporters and urge its passage.

Though we would ordinarily be skeptical about a legislator trying to overturn the will of the people, in this instance, it’s just. There are few rights as intrinsic as self-determination and privacy. The right to die falls under both.

Fortunately, it appears the commonwealth will have a full and fair airing of the issue. The Legislature’s Committee on Public Health held a three-hour hearing before an overflow crowd Tuesday. It was cut short only because of the impending snowstorm. When one legislator tried to negatively characterize another’s point of view on the topic, committee Co-chairman Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez wisely insisted the discussion remain respectful.

Various groups and individuals testified, each offering deeply felt opinions based on personal experiences with end-of-life issues. We commend all for taking part in this most important legislative process.

Much of the discussion mirrored what took place in 2012. A representative of the Hospice and Palliative Care Federation of Massachusetts testified against the bill, citing its inconsistency with the group’s philosophy to “neither hasten death nor prolong life.” We very much respect this view and the work of hospice workers, and while we understand that in many instances palliative care can relieve much of the pain of dying, it can’t in all. And there’s little treatment for all that can occur at the end of life, such as weakness, breathlessness, nausea, the loss of control of one’s bodily functions, and the loss of one’s independence. Death can be an ugly, bruising affair.

As we’ve said before, death with dignity should be viewed as an extension of other medical measures. The right to include a Do Not Resuscitate order into one’s medical records and the right to be removed from life-extending medical machinery such as a respirator are, like choosing medically assisted suicide, options to be exercised by those facing certain death. Each is an active choice, made by individuals, in consultation with their physicians. End-of-life choices should be viewed as the same.

Just as we urged the passage of Question 2, Death with Dignity, we now support passage of the Legislature’s bill. Sponsored by Rep. Louis Kafka, D-Sharon, and co-sponsored by Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, and others, this measure respects each individual’s right to privacy.

The decision to end one’s life when death is certain and pain and loss of independence are constant should be a choice left to each individual.

Either way, it is a choice and no one should have the right to make that most intimate decision for another.