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Massachusetts legislators hear testimony on end-of-life bills

Massachusetts Statehouse.
Elizabeth Román
Massachusetts Statehouse.

Two bills proposing the legalization of medical aid in dying were heard by a Massachusetts legislative committee today.

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D- Northampton, presented a bill that would allow terminally ill patients with a life expectancy of six months or less to take medication that would allow them to voluntarily end their lives.

Clashing views from the public have been debated every year since the legislation was first filed in 2008. In 2012, voters narrowly rejected a state-wide ballot question that would have allowed physician-assisted dying.

Chris Anderson studied public opinion on the issue as president of Beacon Research, which provides quantitative and qualitative social research for political initiatives and corporations.

“Support for this legislation is bipartisan, with over three quarters of Democrats, Republicans and independents supporting the legislation. Two thirds of voters who identify as religious support the legislation, including two thirds of Catholics,” he said.

Anita Cameron, director of minority outreach for the disability rights organization, Not Dead Yet, pointed out the potential danger of the bills.

“This law will put sick people, seniors and disabled people especially at risk due to the views of doctors, that we have a lower quality of life, therefore leading them to devalue our lives,” Cameron said. “Now, add racial disparities in healthcare to this. Blacks in particular receive inferior healthcare compared to whites in the areas of cardiac care, diabetes, cancer and pain management.”

While supporters say the bill offers safeguards for patients, Sandra Kucharski, a nurse of over 45 years, disagrees.

“In my work with the elderly, I know that relatives can have secondary motives because of what they stand to gain from when the patient dies. Not all caregivers are altruistic and have their loved one's best interest at heart. Yet this law presumes as much,” she said.

If passed, Massachusetts would be the 11th state to legalize medical aid in dying.

This report includes information from State House News Service.