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Growing share of Mass. residents support medical aid in dying for the terminally ill

A new poll found that the vast majority of Massachusetts residents support legalizing the practice of doctors helping the terminally ill pass away peacefully.

New polling indicates nearly 77% of Massachusetts residents support legalizing medically-assisted death. AP Photo/Elise Amendola

As new legislation that would legalize doctors giving life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients makes its way through the Massachusetts Legislature, a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll shows that a growing share of Massachusetts residents support such a policy.

The poll found that nearly 77% of Massachusetts residents believe that a mentally sound adult with an incurable, terminal illness should have the legal option of asking a physician to prescribe aid-in-dying medication to end their suffering.

The poll found that only 16% of Massachusetts residents were against it, and only 7% were undecided.

This is about a 7% increase from a similar Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll that was conducted in November 2019.

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“The numbers clearly speak for themselves,” Rep. Jim O’Day, a West Boylston Democrat and longtime advocate for legalizing medically-assisted death, told State House News Service (SHNS) Tuesday.

He’s one of nearly 50 legislators, or their staff, who attended a virtual briefing sponsored by Compassion & Choices Action Network and Death with Dignity National Center on this session’s aid-in-dying legislation Tuesday, SHNS reported.

Though a ballot question that would’ve legalized medically-assisted death failed a decade ago, the margin against it was slim, with about 51% of voters voting no and 49% voting yes.

Additionally, a bill legalizing medically-assisted death has been filed every two-year legislative session since 2008, SHNS reported, but has never been voted on by either legislative house.

The Committee on Public Health recommended the new aid-in-dying bill in March, which is its second time doing so, SHNS reported.

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Though House and Senate leaders have not weighed in on the bill, Melissa Stacy, northeast regional advocacy manager for Compassion and Choices, told SHNS Tuesday that 85 representatives and senators have cosponsored the latest version of the bill, representing the “highest we’ve seen, raw number-wise, of support in any state.”

Other legislators who didn’t cosponsor the bill reportedly told Compassion and Choices that they support the idea, Stacy told SHNS. She also told the news service that the group is confident “we have more than 50% support in both the House and the Senate.”

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The bill has drawn impassioned arguments from both sides.

SHNS reported that opponents argue legalizing medically-assisted death could open patients up to persuasion and abuse. They also argue that the practice would have an outsized impact on people of color and people with disabilities.

The better option, they argue, is for doctors to make palliative care more accessible to terminally ill patients.

“The tragic reality is that under legalized-assisted suicide, some people’s lives will be ended without their true consent, through misdiagnosis, persuasion, coercion and abuse, insurance denials and depression,” John Kelly, director of Second Thoughts Massachusetts, a group opposing the legislation, said in a statement to SHNS Tuesday.

“No safeguards have ever been enacted or proposed that can prevent this outcome, which can never be undone.”

Kelly also argued that many patients given a six-month prognosis outlive it, SHNS reported.

But proponents of the bill say that calling it “suicide” misrepresents what the bill is trying to achieve, SHNS reported.

Firstly, the bill stipulates that two doctors would need to certify that the patient has six months or less to live, is mentally capable of making the decision, and is making the decision voluntarily, before they can approve medically-assisted death, SHNS reported.

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Secondly, SHNS reported, under the bill, patients would need to be evaluated by a mental health professional, confirm their decision after a waiting period, and have two witnesses, at least one of whom must not be connected to the victim, participate in the process.

The next step is for the bill to go through the Committee on Health Care Financing, where the bill stalled out last legislative session, SHNS reported.

The committee has until June to make a decision, but O’Day told SHNS that the bill has been fighting for attention from the committee among many other important healthcare bills, so the future of the bill is yet unclear.

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