Northampton City Council backs ‘death with dignity’ bill

  • Northampton City Council President William Dwight. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 10/23/2017 11:10:26 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After much emotional testimony, including from some members of the body itself, the City Council last week unanimously endorsed a bill that would allow terminally ill patients in Massachusetts to end their lives if they so chose to.

The End of Life Options Act, H. 1194 and S. 1225, would allow people who have been diagnosed with having six months or less to live to be prescribed life-ending medication, after two physicians have signed off on the request and a psychological examination has determined that the patient is of sound mind. It is currently before the Legislature.

One of the people who spoke in favor of the resolution was Maureen Flannery, a retired physician with a degenerative neurological condition. She said that a friend has offered her a place to stay in Vermont, where medical aid in dying is legal.

“I hope I can die in this community,” she said.

However, she also said that the act does not address the suffering of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Attorney David Mintz said the act has many safeguards.

“I found that it was very very carefully crafted,” he said.

Also speaking in favor, Adele Franks said that about a third of the people who sign up for Oregon’s medical aid in dying program never actually end up taking the lethal medication.

“I thought that that was really a very comforting statistic,” she said.

“I’ve watched my father, I’ve watched my mother, I’ve watched my older brother and my adopted brother die,” said Bruce Fuller, in support of the resolution. “And not all of them were comfortable.”

He said he wanted his death to be comfortable, and not one where he was bed-bound and connected to tubes for several months.

Chris Palames, who addressed the council in a wheelchair, was the only person to speak against the resolution at the meeting.

“There’s lots of opposition among people with disabilities,” he said.

He criticized the health care system as being both “miraculous” and “broken.”

“You ain’t gonna die with dignity until you can live your late life with dignity, and that is in doubt in Massachusetts today,” he said.

City Council President William Dwight revealed that he had struggled to break the law to procure barbiturates for ill people so that they would have the option to end their lives.

“This is the ultimate choice,” he continued. “And denying that is ultimately wrong.”

He later clarified that his attempts in getting barbiturates were unsuccessful.

Ward 6 City Councilor Marianne LaBarge, meanwhile, described the harrowing experiences of watching both of her parents suffer terribly before their deaths.

“If he had the opportunity today to say, ‘I want to end my life,’ and not to have to continue with the unbearable suffering he went through, he would have agreed to take dying medication,” LaBarge said of her late father.

She also noted the history of deadly cancer in her family.

“I do feel strongly that how we die should be a personal, individual choice,” she said.

LaBarge also said that a number of people with disabilities have spoken out in favor of the legislation in public hearings in Massachusetts.

Having passed in first reading unanimously, the resolution will be taken up once again by the council at its next meeting.

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