Next Stop For Assisted Suicide Legislation: Massachusetts

“This is life-or-death, people. Solidarity.”

John Kelly of Not Dead Yet has made his way to a lot of places – including New Hampshire’s State House – to fight assisted suicide bills. He has had to fight in his own home state, Massachusetts. He’s been successful. And still, the bills keep coming back. September 26 in Boston: I’ll be there.

From John Kelly’s recent Facebook post:

Massachusetts State House, Boston.

ASSISTED SUICIDE HEARING! Tuesday, September 26th, 10 a.m. or 11 a.m., Massachusetts State House. The Joint Committee on Public Health will be having a public hearing on assisted suicide bills H. 1194 /S.1225.
We win when we show up. All devalued communities are under threat: disabled people, people of color, old people, ill people, LGBTQ people, poor people, autistic people, people experiencing depression, abused people, and more. Even wealthy people are endangered because family might care more about inheriting an estate than caring for a seriously ill person. And everyone is at risk for misdiagnosis.
We need you to come testify for 3 minutes, or come and support people who are testifying . Everyone who comes will be making a difference!
Wealthy proponent group [C]ompassion & [C]hoices thinks they can pass the bill. Let’s say different with people power!
This is life-or-death, people. Solidarity.

Solidarity is right. I’ve worked against such bills in Concord. I’ve traveled to Boston and Hartford to stand by New England neighbors tackling their own state’s bills. The victories, meaning the defeats of assisted suicide legislation, happen after hearing rooms fill up with people who hate the better-dead-than-disabled ethic.

John wrote, we win when we show up. True, as is the reverse: the day we don’t show up is the day we lose.


 

Et Cetera: week ending 11/23/14

Yesterday’s East Coast Conference Against Assisted Suicide was a splendid event, and I’ll share more about it in upcoming posts. For this weekend’s collection of short items, though, I recommend you add these people and organizations to your social media feeds for ongoing information. This is not a comprehensive list of resources, but it should keep you busy for now.

Alex Schadenberg (courtesy EPC Facebook page)
Alex Schadenberg (courtesy EPC Facebook page)

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, led by executive director Alex Schadenberg, has become an indispensable resource for anyone investigating the status of assisted suicide and euthanasia laws worldwide. Alex is based in Canada, but his work keeps him traveling to the United States and beyond. Follow the EPC blog at alexschadenberg.blogspot.ca, “like” EPC’s Facebook page, and follow @AlexSchadenberg and @EuthanasiaPC on Twitter.

The Family Institute of Connecticut’s involvement in the defeat of Connecticut’s assisted suicide bill this year was notable. Web site: www.ctfamily.org. Twitter: @FICaction.

Maggie Karner, maker of the best YouTube video we’ll see all year, is on Twitter @Karnerms.

Not Dead Yet  (or as the heading for their web site says, Not Dead Yet: The Resistance) is a disability rights group that frankly and rightly sees assisted suicide and euthanasia as tools of discrimination against people with disabilities. Web site: www.notdeadyet.org. John Kelly is NDY’s New England regional director, Boston-based, and his Twitter feed @JohnBrianKelly aggregates a number of news stories and blog posts about discrimination against people with disabilities.

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A few selections from this week’s news feed: Dave Andrusko from National Right to Life on Two women facing terminal brain disease, two profoundly different legacies …Margaret Dore, a Washington State elder law attorney who has traveled to New Hampshire to help fight assisted suicide bills here, takes note of an assisted suicide bill now being considered in New Jersey … New to Twitter, or simply looking for ways to convey your pro-life message on your social media accounts? American Life League has some suggestions …Abby Johnson answers the question she still gets about how she could stay at PP as long as she did.

May your preparations for Thanksgiving go smoothly!

“Alleviating suffering is different from eliminating the sufferer”: confronting the Massachusetts assisted-suicide bill

Undeterred by the defeat of a 2012 ballot initiative promoting physician-assisted suicide (PAS) in Massachusetts, legislators there are working to enact PAS via legislation. I went to Boston today to listen to the hearing on the bill, H.1998. I stayed only two hours, but that was long enough for me to see that the people who want to legalize PAS are relentless. Are those of us opposed to doctor-imposed death just as determined? We’d better be.

Today was one of those days when my social media skills fell flat. I tweeted throughout the hearing – or so I thought. I found later that the tweets never got past my valiant little phone. They’re all unsent drafts. They actually serve as decent notes.

At MA state house for assisted suicide hearing. Many people sporting “My life my choice my death” stickers.

Massachusetts Citizens for Life sent an email this morning claiming that pro-PAS groups were busing in supporters. I can’t verify that, but I can say that the crowd of more than 200 people included an awful lot of folks with those identical green stickers.

Committee chair cautions all to be respectful of those speaking on this “sensitive topic.”

Respect wore thin after the first 90 minutes at this hearing with the Joint Committee on Public Health. There were people testifying that there’s nothing compassionate about killing, and then there were people objecting to anyone saying that. The presiding officer, Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez (D-Jamaica Plain), finally made it clear that he didn’t want anyone accusing anyone else of lack of compassion.

Rep. Sánchez also made it clear that he favors the bill, although he has “struggled with it.”

MA Medical Society testifies in opposition to physician-assisted suicide. “Incompatible with physicians’ role as healer.”

Former Massachusetts Medical Society president Dr. Barbara Rockett, speaking for MMS, was brief and blunt in opposition to PAS. “This is incompatible with the physician’s role as healer.” She went on to say that MMS opposes legislative tinkering with the practice of medicine, which she sees in the bill’s assorted “requirements.” Dr. Rockett was active in the defeat of the PAS ballot initiative, saying during that campaign, “To substitute physician-assisted suicide for care represents an abandonment of the patient by the physician.” 

Interesting: one of the bills today would prohibit health care pros from participating in the torture/abuse of prisoners. Drs testify re Do No Harm ethic. Will same drs apply that Do Not Harm ethic to PAS?

H.1998 was one of twenty bills on the agenda, although it drew most of the day’s testimony. Two other bills, one from each chamber, would “prohibit the participation of health care professionals in the torture and abuse of prisoners.” Physicians and psychologists provided vivid and compelling testimony favoring such a ban. Several of these professionals related how the co-opting of medical professionals in the torture of prisoners violates the “do no harm” ethic. These same professionals did not apply that ethic to H.1998, and in fact were silent on PAS today.

state rep Adkins (sp?) supports PAS, comparing force-feeding against patients’ will to torture.

Rep. Cory Atkins (D-Concord) came out in strong support of PAS, asking “who is in charge of us at the end of life?” She evoked the specter of force-feeding of dying patients against the express wishes of those patients, calling it torture and saying that families who insist on feeding dying loved ones do so “to make themselves feel better.” Chairman Sánchez found nothing objectionable in that declaration, judging from his silence as his colleague spoke.

One could make the case that a dying person’s family members might support PAS “to make themselves feel better.” Or would that be an uncivil thing to say? Would the chairman have been moved to interrupt someone making that claim? I can only guess.

Rep. Atkins declined to say who’s force-feeding a patient if the patient has an advance directive barring such an activity. Massachusetts already has a durable power of attorney/advance directive law on the books. If the kind of force-feeding Rep. Atkins describes is happening, it’s happening in violation of the law. And if medical professionals and law enforcement officials can’t handle a written order regarding feeding, that gives me no confidence that a PAS law full of “safeguards” would promote patient safety.

If Rep. Atkins is right about force-feeding going on in violation of patient wishes, that means the durable power of attorney law is being ignored. Her colleagues did not question her about that today.

MACLU supports assisted suicide bill; right to be free of “unnecessary suffering.”

Carol Rose of the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union testified in support of PAS, immediately after testifying in support of the anti-torture bill. She said we all have a right to be free from unnecessary suffering, which makes me wonder what “necessary” suffering looks like in the CLU’s eyes. She also warned of “scare tactics” from PAS opponents. She claimed that the experience in Washington and Oregon, where PAS has been legal for years, shows that abuse of the system Just Doesn’t Happen. Besides, she said, the state has no business being involved in end-of-life decisions.

Her assertion that abuse doesn’t happen requires taking a lot on faith. The Patients Rights Council has tracked euthanasia measures all over the world, including the ones in effect in the U.S. Their information about Oregon’s PAS law includes a warning about incomplete record-keeping regarding acts taken pursuant to the law.

One legislator, whose name I unfortunately did not catch, questioned Ms. Rose: if the state has no business being involved in end-of-life decisions, why do you want the state involved in encouraging suicide? Ms. Rose’s answer was as chilling as it was simple: if the patient is terminally ill, then it’s not suicide for the patient to take her own life.

Her answer was not an aberration. A retired psychiatrist, who is also a former medical director of a hospice, echoed her thought, saying PAS is “not suicide as we understand it.”

Several pro-assisted suicide people testifying re agony of watching a parent die. I’ve been there. Not easy.

Not easy, indeed. Yet PAS is supposed to be about the patient, not the patient’s loved ones, if I understood the bill’s supporters today.

Every supporter of H.1998 who was not affiliated with a group testified about a loved one’s suffering and death. I saw today, and I’ve seen at similar hearings in my own state, that people promoting suicide have no reluctance to tell their stories. People opposed to state-sanctioned, physician-aided death will learn to speak up about their own experiences and those of their loved ones – or else they will lose the political argument, plain and simple.

MCFL: bill encourages lying on death certificate by saying “suicide” won’t be listed as cause of death in PAS cases.

I’m glad Massachusetts Citizens for Life got this into today’s record. This is a feature of every assisted-suicide bill I’ve ever read, including those that have been introduced in my own state: deaths pursuant to PAS are not to be listed as “suicide” on the patient’s death certificate. Whose delicate sensibilities are offended by recording the truth? Does the medical community honestly think that such subterfuge will prevent distrust between patient and provider?

 “Alleviating suffering is different from eliminating the sufferer.” – John Kelly

“To have power of life and death over a person is criminal.” – Kate Ryan

Powerful testimony against PAS came from John Kelly of Second Thoughts, a disability-rights advocacy group, and from Kate Ryan, an advocate for people with autism. I tweeted (well, thought I tweeted) their best lines, which beautifully crystallize the passionate concern for human dignity shared by opponents of H.1998. In their own ways, Kelly and Ryan defended inherent human dignity, not a dignity that depends on being healthy or physically independent or mentally intact. Kelly actually got the attention of the committee, and most of the people in the room – I was sitting in back and could see this – when he started his testimony by taking legislators to task for not making sure sidewalks were cleared around the State House. “That kept some of our people from getting here today.”

#boom, as the social-media saying goes.

Also supporting the bill: Compassion and Choices, a PAS-advocacy group active nationwide. No surprise. C&C sends a lobbyist to any state contemplating end-of-life legislation. Oh, that name! The euthanasia movement has come a long way (and learned a lot about marketing) since the days of Derek Humphry’s Hemlock Society. The C&C lobbyist today said that the ballot initiative failed because PAS opponents outspent pro-assisted-suicide forces 5 to 1  on a “media blitz” of misinformation. (That’s the same figure claimed by assisted-suicide supporters the night the ballot initiative failed, before the final expenditure reports had to be filed.) He considers the legislative route for PAS to be a more considered, more measured way to get the job done.

Keep the public at a distance, in other words. The Massachusetts legislature and governor may yet manage to do just that.

So what’s on your state’s agenda?