Katherine J. Atkinson: ‘Death with Dignity’ and the disabled

Published: 7/8/2020 6:00:16 PM

As a physician who supports both the rights of people with disabilities to quality health care and the issue of “Death with Dignity” as an option for people who are terminally ill, including those with disabilities, I write to respond to a June 23 letter by Jonah Carlson, “Listen to disabled on assisted suicide issue,” who opposes Death with Dignity.

I understand the legitimate concerns that people in the disability community have, and I wouldn’t support Death with Dignity, also known as medical, compassionate aid in dying, if I weren’t convinced that the safeguards built into the laws in nine other states and Washington, D.C. have worked as intended to avoid any misuse, abuse, or coercion toward a person with a disability, or any other vulnerable patient.

Don’t just take my word for it. The longtime director of the largest disability rights organization in Oregon, which legalized the Death with Dignity option 23 years ago, has attested in writing several times in recent years that no person with a disability in Oregon has been negatively impacted by this law.

I also read that in New York state last March, where the proposed law has growing support but has not yet passed their state legislature, a major statewide disability organization called The Arc New York added its support for passage of the bill.

Lastly, all the laws state, including the one currently under consideration in our Legislature, that no person with a disability would qualify to obtain a life-ending medication prescribed by their doctor unless they also were determined to be terminally ill from cancer or other serious illnesses.

In that case, I believe that most disabled people, like those who aren’t, would want the sense of autonomy and self-determination to choose a peaceful painless death in their sleep after self-administering the medication, rather than face continued intense pain and suffering at the end of their life.

If you agree that Massachusetts should pass this law, join me in contacting the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, and urge them to pass H.4782 before July 31st: Rep. Daniel Cullinane (617-722-2430) and Sen. Cindy Friedman (617-722-1432).

Dr. Katherine J. Atkinson,

Atkinson Family Practice, PC in Amherst and Northampton

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