Editorial: Time to act on ‘death with dignity’ bill

Published: 5/28/2020 5:34:48 PM

Friday is an important day for the state’s so-called “death with dignity” legislation, a years-in-the-making effort to offer the terminally ill the option of ending their lives on their terms.

That’s when the Joint Committee on Public Health will announce whether it will advance The End of Life Options Act (H.1926/S.1208), which, if passed, would enable a person with a life expectancy of six months or less to request and self-administer medication provided by a consulting physician to end their lives.

For some, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought end-of-life issues into renewed focus, as more than 6,500 lives have been lost statewide to the virus. As we’ve editorialized on these pages several times over the years, the time to pass this bill is overdue.

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, who has publicly supported the bill and chairs the Joint Committee on Public Health, says the committee should know by midday Friday whether it will send the bill to its next committee, before an eventual full airing by legislators. If the bill advances, it would be the first time in its 12-year history.

We hope that Massachusetts becomes the 10th state in the nation, along with Washington, D.C., that allows doctors to prescribe medication for terminally ill patients who want to end their lives. Maine and New Jersey joined that group last year. Vermont OK’ed its end-of-life options law seven years ago, and New York is considering passing its own law, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he would sign.

The bill in Massachusetts would establish specific steps a patient must take before being prescribed lethal medication. They include medical certification of a terminal illness expected to cause death within six months, written and oral requests for the medication that must be approved by two doctors, as well as a psychological examination to determine if the patient is of sound mind. After a 15-day waiting period, the patient would be given the drugs. When — and if — the medication is used is up to the patient.

A guest column to be published in Saturday’s Gazette, co-authored by Dr. Alberto Gambarini, a 97-year-old retired surgeon who lives in Easthampton, puts it best.

“Over the years, we have lost beloved wives, parents, siblings and friends,” the column reads. “Despite the best medical and hospice care, some people before death suffer unwanted and unrelieved pain and deep emotional anguish. We’re grateful for the gift of our very long and satisfying lives, but we don’t want our ending to be filled with such suffering, frustration and loss of dignity.”

The bill being considered in Massachusetts would ease that decision-making process. Lawmakers must advance it.

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