Support grows for end-of-life medical care option: action needed now by Marjorie Arons Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons Barron’s own blog.

Should we be able to decide the nature of our passing when we are close to the end of our lives? Many people who are terminally ill and suffering want the legal option of self-administered doctor-prescribed medicine for a peaceful passing.

Here in Massachusetts, the battle to give individuals who are terminally ill (in the last six months of their lives) the right to choose a medically assisted path to a more peaceful death has been going on for more than a decade. Since first introduced here, ten states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to pass just such humane measures. but our state legislature has never even sent the matter to the floor for a vote. This year, real progress has been made. One hundred of the state’s legislators are co-sponsoring it, and many others indicate support. It’s time to make Massachusetts the 11th state.

On the Senate side, Bill #1331 was approved by the Public Health and Health Care Finance Committees and is pending in the Ways and Means Committee for the first time. Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem, in an unusual move, has signed on among the near majority of Senate supporters. She shared her strong endorsement in a phone call with me. Senator Will Brownsberger (Fenway, Allston, Brighton, Watertown, Belmont, West Cambridge) has made action a personal priority as have Senator Pat Jehlen and others. In the House, which is waiting for the Senate to approve and pass along its version of this compassionate care measure, the status of support is less clear.

What is clear is that the public wants the option of a less tortured death. Between two thirds and as many as three quarters of the population favor it. The Mass. Medical Society, which once opposed the bill, has decided to remain neutral on it, a decidedly positive sign for the MMS. While the strongest remaining opposition comes from the Church, according to Beacon Research, two thirds of Catholics and 71 percent of Protestants support this approach to end-of-life care. Members of the public demonstrated at the State House last Wednesday, urging the legislature to pass the bill this session.

Those who do not favor having control of their end-of-life health decisions don’t have to exercise the option. For adults who rightly insist such compassionate choice is their right, there are clear-cut guidelines to prevent abuses. Check out these guidelines I have detailed in a recent blog. For a patient to exercise that option would require approvals by multiple professionals, including medical doctors and mental health practitioners, and the whole process has a carefully designed paper trail.

It’s an election year, so members of the legislature are eager to wrap up this year’s session before the end of July. It is absolutely urgent for you to ask the support of your state senator (S1331) and your state representative (H. 2246). Please indicate in the comments section when you have done so. Time is running out, and your action is essential. We may not be able to change the world, but we do have the power to make it a little better.

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