Lawmakers To Hold Hearing On Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill

State lawmakers on Beacon Hill will hear arguments Tuesday afternoon on a proposed measure to legalize physician-assisted suicide.

The bill would require a terminally ill patient — specifically, a person with an incurable illness or condition that can reasonably be expected to cause death within six months — be assessed by two doctors and a counselor before being prescribed life-ending medication.

The doctors would need to inform the patient about the diagnosis, prognosis, risks associated with taking the medication and other treatment.

The practice is currently legal in five states: California, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont. Supporters have pushed for similar measures in dozens of other statehouses.

In 2012, Massachusetts voters narrowly rejected a ballot measure on doctor-assisted suicide. That measure called for two fewer doctor opinions than the new legislation being weighed.

Religious, medical and disability rights groups fought the 2012 measure, saying it was open to manipulation and relied on diagnoses that could be wrong. Cardinal Sean O'Malley, head of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, called the defeat the best outcome for the "common good."

"We're just looking for a compassionate way for them to face that inevitability," state Rep. Louis Kafka, a sponsor of the new legislation, said of terminally ill patients seeking to end their lives.

The bill being discussed in Tuesday's public hearing also requires that the patient's request be drafted in writing and mandates that the patient self-administer the drugs.

People would be ineligible for the life-ending drugs if they're minors, have guardians or are seeking them only because of age or disability.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker pointed to the outcome of the 2012 ballot question.

"This is one where the details really matter, and I do take my lead a bit from the fact that the voters of the commonwealth had an opportunity to consider this and voted it down," he said.

Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg said the Senate hasn't discussed the issue, but he supports it.

"I think we can learn from what the other states that have implemented this have done," Rosenberg said. "Personally I think we should take a hard look at it and find a ... way to move forward with it."

The Massachusetts Medical Society opposes the bill, saying the legislation will do more harm than good.

With reporting from the WBUR Newsroom and The Associated Press



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