A debate circling for years in Massachusetts is back in the spotlight, as dozens of people testified Friday on the recently-introduced "End of Life Options Act" at the State House.
If passed, the bill would give certain patients the right to medical aid in dying. To get the medication, they would have to be a terminally ill, mentally capable adult with six months or fewer to live.
State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester, introduced the bill, and believes it gives patients the reassurance of a "dignified, peaceful death." Some speakers at Friday’s hearing agreed it would be a humane and compassionate way to alleviate suffering.
“While this law is used only by a very small percentage of people who are terminally ill and who choose it, we know from other states who have put it in place that awareness of palliative care and hospice care increases for everyone in the state once it's put in place, and generally there is an increased quality of care around death management, which I think is a really wonderful benefit,” said Kathleen Wolf, a nurse practitioner.
But, despite Comerford’s assertion that 80% of people in Massachusetts support the legislation, the opposition made their voices heard at Friday’s hearing as well. Among other concerns, they worried this option for end-of-life care would disproportionately impact people who can’t afford other means of treatment.
María José Fernandez Flores, of the Patients Rights Access Fund, said people shouldn’t feel forced to make a decision they don’t want to solely because of lack of health care access or financial hardships.
“I would not seek adequate preventative treatment because it would be a financial burden on myself and my family, therefore, I only visited when I was in extreme pain or sickness,” Flores said. “Now, imagine the distress I'd be in if I were to get diagnosed with terminal disease at that time, and assisted suicide would have been legal in my state growing up. When given the chance to persevere and seek treatment or to take my life away, I would have probably chosen the latter.”
Massachusetts has previously voted on a similar measure which appeared on the 2012 general election ballot. Voters narrowly decided against it, with 51% voting "no."