Political candidates advocate for medically assisted death

  • Pioneer Valley Death with Dignity Director John Berkowitz addresses the press conference called to highlight candidate support for 'The End of Life Options Act.' Bera Dunau—Bera Dunau

Staff Writer
Published: 8/28/2018 11:37:31 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Support is strong for “The End of Life Options Act” among those running to represent western Massachusetts on Beacon Hill, with a number of its backers citing intense experiences with suffering and dying loved ones in explaining their support.

The legislation would allow terminally ill people of sound mind to purchase lethal drugs, prescribed to them by a physician, that they could then self-administer to end their own lives if they choose.

“I cried this morning again,” said Northampton City Councilor Marianne LaBarge — who is taking care of a terminally ill friend — at a press conference to highlight support for the bill.

LaBarge said that her friend, who she said has suffered greatly over the past few months, would have liked the option of medically assisted death after receiving her terminal cancer diagnoses.

“Please help make this pass,” said LaBarge.

Lindsay Sabadosa, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the 1st Hampshire District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, nearly teared up talking about the loss of her partner of 17 years to cancer two years ago. She said that she became supportive of medically assisted death when she was 12, when she watched her grandparents die.

Casey Pease, who is running in the Democratic primary for the 1st Franklin District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, also nearly teared up when describing assisting people who he is close with medical responder who would like and need the option of medically assisted death. 

“When somebody is terminally ill, who are we to tell them that they don’t have this choice?” said Pease.

The press conference was organized by Pioneer Valley Death with Dignity, which had previously distributed a position statement pledging signers to support the passage of “The End of Life Options Act” in 2019.

All the candidates in the Democratic primary for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District in the Massachusetts Senate, Chelsea Kline, Steven Connor, Jo Comerford and Ryan O’Donnell, signed the statement. Similarly both candidates in the Democratic primary for the 1st Hampshire District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Sabadosa and Diana Szynal, signed on, as did both candidates in the Democratic primary for the 3rd Hampshire District, Mindy Domb and Eric Nakajima. Two of the three candidates in the Democratic primary for the 2nd Hampshire District, Marie McCourt and John Hine, signed on while candidate Dan Carey did not. In the 1st Franklin District four of the seven candidates, Pease, Natalie Blais, Christina Doktor, and Jonathan Edwards, all signed on while Kate Albright-Hanna, Francia Wisnewski and Nathaniel Waring did not.

Sitting legislators seeking re-election who have signed on consist of Sen. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, D-Springfield, Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke and Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru. Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, D-Lenox, has not signed the statement, but was a co-sponsor of the bill this legislative session.

Kline, Connor, Comerford, Sabadosa, Szynal, Domb, Nakajima, McCourt, Blais and Pease all attended the event and spoke in support of legalizing medically assisted death, as did Vega.

Szynal, the longtime district director to Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, said that medically assisted death was one of the few issues that she and Kocot ever disagreed on, although he later came to co-sponsor “The End of Life Options Act.”

“We talked about it a lot,” said Szynal. “It was a rare occasion for us to not be in sync.”

Nakajima said that the issue has come up frequently on doorsteps.

“More people at the doors say, ‘I want to know where you stand on this,’” he said.

McCourt said that she has been supporting “death with dignity” since she was 18, when she wrote an opinion paper saying how important it is.

“I failed the class because my teacher did not agree,” said McCourt.

She also said that her stepfather, whom she helped care for as he died of cancer, told her and other family members to please take him out of the pain he was in many times.

“And there was nothing that we could do for him, other than give him pain medicine and have hospice care,” said McCourt.

Connor said that he sat with his brother when he died in 2013, and that he thinks his brother would have utilized medically assisted death, whereas his two parents would have not, despite suffering with cancer.

“They wouldn’t have chose it,” said Connor. “But somebody should have the choice.”

Retiring Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, spoke at the event as well, as did retired Rep. Ellen Story. Scibak noted that Massachusetts is a state that focuses on choice.

“Why should you make a choice for someone else?” he said.

He also noted that people have the right to terminate medical treatment, and the medical cost of keeping people alive who do not want to be.

Scibak mentioned his father, who died at 93, and said that he wanted to die prior to going into hospice care.

“He said ‘I’m 93 years old,’” said Scibak. “‘I’m ready to go.’”

And while he said he doesn’t know if his father would have made the choice to end his life, people should have the option.

Scibak also said seven other states have medically assisted death.

“The sky has not fallen,” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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