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March 6, 2020

Doctors urge lawmakers not to pass assisted dying bills

Photo | SHNS Sen. William Brownsberger

More than 100 doctors and health care professionals from around Massachusetts signed onto an open letter urging state lawmakers to sink proposed bills that would open the door to allowing doctors to prescribe lethal doses of chemicals for terminally ill patients.

Bills that would legalize medical aid in dying — sometimes referred to as doctor-assisted suicide or death with dignity — were filed by Rep. Louis Kafka and Sen. William Brownsberger and are pending before the Joint Committee on Public Health with a reporting deadline of April 1.

"As physicians and healthcare professionals, we embrace a culture where ALL people receive appropriate medical care, regardless of economic state, ethnicity, age or disability," the physicians wrote in an open letter organized by the Massachusetts Alliance Against Doctor-Prescribed Suicide.

"We believe that the most vulnerable patients will suffer from legalization of lethal drugs by creation of a financial incentive for insurance companies and governments to save money by approving coverage of cheaper lethal drugs and denying lifesaving treatment, as has happened in states where assisted suicide is legal."

In each of the last at least five legislative sessions, bills to authorize medical aid in dying have been sent to study by the Joint Committee on Public Health, effectively spelling the end of the issue for each session.

Supporters of medical aid in dying, who had been optimistic in 2018 after the Massachusetts Medical Society voted to reconsider its longstanding opposition to medical aid in dying and instead adopt a position of neutral engagement, have pointed to a 2014 poll conducted by Purple Strategies that found 70 percent of Massachusetts voters support medical aid in dying as an option for terminally ill adults.

Massachusetts voters spoke directly to the issue in 2012 when they rejected a ballot question similar to the bills filed by Kafka and Brownsberger with 51 percent opposed and 49 percent in favor, a margin of 67,891 votes. 

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