It’s been another active legislative session so far, and our Massachusetts team continues to forge ahead with increasing strength. The state’s Joint Public Health Committee held a hearing on the End of Life Options Act September 26, and we succeeded in making a statement, rallying more than 150 advocates to attend and over 25 supporters to testify before lawmakers on our behalf. Some of the moving accounts included those from Compassion & Choices Chief Program Officer Kim Callinan and advocate Dan Diaz, whose late wife, Brittany Maynard, brought unprecedented attention to the movement when she relocated from California to Oregon to access aid in dying. Her story and ensuing activism were a major catalyst in the enactment of California’s law last year.
Legislators spoke up as well, including Rep. Chris Walsh, a 66-year-old Framingham Democrat who is battling lymphoma and testified while he does not have a terminal diagnosis at this point and is undergoing state-of-the-art treatment to fight his cancer, he would want the option to choose how he dies if it came to that. “I had to come to terms with this idea when I got this diagnosis, which is: Am I afraid of dying? I’m much more afraid of not living well.” And similarly, supporter Michael Martignetti explained from his wheelchair that he does not have any immediate need for the option — but he wants that option to be there. “I don’t know if I will use it, but I know I want the peace of mind that I can use it, if I choose,” said Martignetti, who has a degenerative neuromuscular disease.
“I’m very pleased with how the public hearing went,” said C&C’s Marie Manis. “We had doctors, social workers, hospice workers, faith leaders and legislators from across the state representing us. The committee members were attentive and asked good questions, and we provided much information to them. We strongly encourage our supporters statewide to reach out to committee members and urge them to vote H1194, the End of Life Options Act, favorably out of committee.”
Progress has been steady in the Bay State for a number of years. With strong influence from the Catholic Church, which holds a very prominent position in the state, Massachusetts voters narrowly rejected a ballot question in 2012. But recent polls indicate a majority of Massachusetts residents favor giving the choice to seek medical aid in dying to those whose options have been exhausted.
“It’s not a question of whether they are going to die. They are going to die,” said Democratic Sen. Barbara L’Italien, a lead sponsor of the bill. “This is about whether they have the right to decide whether they are going to end pain and suffering.”
The Massachusetts Medical Society, which currently opposes the practice, said it was surveying its 25,000 member physicians to gauge their views on the subject. They expect to have results by the end of the year.
The Joint Public Health Committee has until February 7 to move the bill, so our Massachusetts team will use these next several months to continue to apply pressure and move this bill out of committee. If you would like to help our Massachusetts efforts, visit our state page and learn how to get involved!