Assisted suicide is up for discussion again at the Massachusetts State House – for the eighth time, according to the Boston Herald. The Joint Committee on Public Health held a public hearing on September 26 on a pair of bills “relative to end of life options” (H.1194 and S.1225). I went to Boston to stand alongside Massachusetts residents giving public witness against state-sponsored medically-prescribed killing.
I was happy to meet C.J. Williams, a Brighton resident who’s director of outreach and education with Rehumanize International. We had connected online some weeks ago regarding the life issues. She greeted me outside the State House and introduced me to other people who had come to fight the bills. She then spent an hour calmly engaged in sidewalk conversations with people inquiring about the legislation, before she headed into the State House for the hearing.
The hearing room was full, with strong feelings and beliefs evident on all sides. Sponsors and supporters of the bills talked about safeguards, autonomy, choice, and “gentle passing.” That last term was offered by Dan Diaz, widower of Brittany Maynard, now an activist with Compassion and Choices. C&C is the current avatar of what was once the Hemlock Society.
The hearing was scheduled to last all afternoon, and I was only able to stay for the first hour. One of the people I heard was Kristine Correira, a physician’s assistant, who warned of the threat posed to Catholic hospitals by the proposed law. She testified that the bills would require health care providers unwilling to participate in assisted suicide to refer patients to other providers – and to pay for the transfer – in violation of the conscience rights of providers opposing medically-prescribed killing. “Is it your intention to close down all the Catholic hospitals?” A fair question, and one which remained unanswered at the time I left.
The Boston Herald’s account of the hearing mentioned testimony from Timothy Shriver, son of the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics. “Beware the law of unintended consequences,” he said. People with disabilities are “vulnerable to the calculations of human values.”
The Hampshire Gazette’s coverage of the hearing included a warning from Jacqueline Rivers, executive director of the Seymour Institute on Black Church and Policy Studies, about the legislation’s potential effect on people living in poverty. “Poor black and brown people will be affected by the subtleties of societal pressure.”
The Gazette report continued, “[Rivers] said those communities are often underserved already when it comes to palliative and hospice care and the availability of physician-assisted end-of-life options might put pressure on poor families to make a choice not to spend money on treatment and care if this bill were passed.”
By any other name…
On the way to the hearing room, I saw a notice affixed to a wall, pointing the way to the “Aid in Dying” hearing. The bills themselves are titled “End of Life.” One news outlet headlined its coverage with “…bill to allow terminally ill to end their lives peacefully,” while another went with “right to die.” I find “assisted suicide” a more apt term. There was no shortage of names for what was on the table.
At last count, six states and the District of Columbia have legalized assisted suicide.