Legislation to authorize physician-assisted suicide is dead in Massachusetts, after the proposal was sent to a study committee late last week, effectively ending the bill’s chance at enactment this session.
The aid-in-dying bills H1194 and S1225 would have given doctors the ability to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients who wish to die and are given a prognosis of six months or less to live.
Matt Valliere, executive director of Patients Rights Action Fund, which opposes assisted suicide, said the Legislature listened to doctors, disability rights activists and residents who came out against assisted suicide.
“Your voice was heard: Assisted suicide is not medical treatment,” Mr. Valliere said in a statement. “It is bad public policy that puts a great many at risk of deadly harm through mistakes, coercion and abuse.”
The natural death of the aid-in-dying bill comes as dozens of states across the country are considering similar legislation, including Hawaii, where the Democrat-controlled House passed a bill for legalizing the practice earlier this year.
Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide in 1994, when voters approved a ballot measure.
Four additional states — California, Colorado, Vermont and Washington — and the District of Columbia have since passed legislation permitting the practice. The Montana Supreme Court also ruled in 2009 that aid in dying is legal there.
There has been a years-long effort to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Massachusetts. Voters narrowly rejected a death-with-dignity ballot measure in 2012, 51 percent to 49 percent.
Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said there is a six-year moratorium on failed ballot measures in Massachusetts. So far, there is no effort to include physician-assisted suicide on this year’s referendum.
Momentum appeared to be building behind aid in dying this session, after the Massachusetts Medical Society changed its position on the practice from opposed to neutral in December.
In response to that change in policy, a group of about 25 doctors dressed in lab coats went to Beacon Hill in January to reiterate their opposition to physician-assisted suicide. Among their number was Dr. Thomas Sullivan, past president of the Massachusetts Medical Society.
Marie Manis, Massachusetts campaign director for Compassion & Choices, which advocates aid in dying, said there is no need for further study on the issue, citing decades of research in states where the practice is already legal.
“We are deeply disappointed that the Massachusetts legislature has referred the End of Life Options Act to study when there are already 40 years of data about medical aid-in-dying laws in six states, and polling shows more than 60 percent of doctors and 70 percent of voters in Massachusetts support this option,” Ms. Manis said in a statement. “The tragedy is terminally ill Massachusetts residents with six months or less to live will not have this option to peacefully end their suffering if they need it before the legislature revisits this issue next year.”