Medical Aid-in-Dying Supporters Undeterred by Mass. Court’s Rejection of Lawsuit on Issue

Vow to Persuade Legislature to Pass Long-Overdue End of Life Options Act 


(Boston, Mass.) Supporters of medical aid in dying expressed sadness but said they are undeterred by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling today that terminally ill adults have no state constitutional right to medical aid in dying and that state law prohibits this end-of-life care option. 

The court concluded

“Although we recognize the paramount importance and profound significance of all end-of-life decisions, after careful consideration, we conclude that the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights does not reach so far as to protect” medical aid in dying. “We conclude as well that the law of manslaughter may prohibit” medical aid in dying, “and does so, without offending constitutional protections. 

“Our decision today does not diminish the critical nature of these interests, but rather recognizes the limits of our Constitution, and the proper role of the judiciary in a functioning democracy. The desirability and practicality of physician-assisted suicide raises not only weighty philosophical questions about the nature of life and death, but also difficult technical questions about the regulation of the medical field. These questions are best left to the democratic process, where their resolution can be informed by robust public debate and thoughtful research by experts in the field.”

Roger Kligler pictured in his hospital bed

Dr. Roger Kligler as patient during leukaphoresis.

“After a six-year legal battle, words cannot express my disappointment about this ruling, but I will continue urging lawmakers to respect the bodily autonomy of dying Massachusetts residents by passing the End of Life Options Act,” said Dr. Kligler. “I believe that the government should not have any interest in telling mentally capable, terminally ill adults that we have to die with intolerable suffering.”

“This ruling is a very unfortunate but temporary setback for terminally ill adults in Massachusetts who desperately need this option now,” said Kevin Díaz, chief legal advocacy officer for Compassion & Choices. “This paves the way for Massachusetts lawmakers to pass medical aid-in-dying laws because more than three-quarters of state residents (77%) support it, so we are very optimistic about the prospects of the law’s passage in the future.”

Currently, Washington, D.C., and 10 states, including Massachusetts neighbors Maine and Vermont, allow mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live to have the end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying to peacefully end unbearable suffering. During the 2021-22 legislative session, medical aid-in-dying bills have been introduced in 12 states: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin

“We believe the better view is expressed in Justice Dalila Argaez Wendlandt’s dissenting opinion in which she recognized: ‘when a terminally ill, mentally competent patient approaches the final stage of the dying process … allowing this subset of patients to choose to die with dignity as their final act while death is looming and inevitable would not result in harm to the public welfare,’” said John Kappos, a partner at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, which worked with the Boston-based law firm Morgan Lewis and Compassion & Choices to file the suit on behalf of Dr. Kligler and Dr. Steinbach. “It’s a recognition by the court that the state doesn't have an unfettered right to keep dying people alive when they are in agony, even if patients might not have a fundamental right to medical aid in dying under the state constitution.”