Massachusetts doctors: Vulnerable citizens feel ‘threatened’ by assisted suicide legislation

assisted suicide, euthanasia

A group of physicians and disability activists in Massachusetts are warning that legalizing assisted suicide would hurt the state’s most vulnerable citizens. At a press conference last week, the group, led by Dr. Laura Petrillo, said the poor, the disabled, and communities of color would be disproportionately impacted if the legislation is passed.

In 2020, a judge ruled that patients do not have a constitutional right to assisted suicide. Yet legislators are still trying to force the issue, with a Joint Committee on Public Health hearing held last week to debate a proposal legalizing assisted suicide. Reportedly, over 80 state lawmakers have signed onto the bill. But opponents are still speaking out, warning that it could have dire consequences.

Petrillo, originally from California, said at the press conference that legalizing assisted suicide in California dramatically changed how medicine was practiced, and “profoundly affects everyone involved.” She also blasted lawmakers for considering it during a pandemic, and said assisted suicide is merely a symptom of privilege within the medical industry.

READ: Four psychiatrists speak out against assisted suicide: Legal doesn’t mean ethical

“The vast majority of patients request [assisted suicide] to have absolute control over their moment of death,” she said, and added that vulnerable groups conversely “feel like their lives are being threatened by a law like this.”

John B. Kelly, a disability rights activist from Boston, agreed. He pointed out that when the issue was raised before, in 2012, it was “wealthier, white towns” that voted in favor while working-class and minority communities were staunchly opposed.

“It’s about escaping the ‘existential distress’ some people experience over depending on others, of feeling undignified, and like a burden,” he said, insisting that lawmakers should instead focus on funding better home care and end-of-life care. “Massachusetts should provide world-class palliative care. Equality under the law depends on it.”

Kelly, a quadriplegic who is paralyzed from the shoulders down, also said that for many in the disability community, it’s clear that quality-of-life arguments are directed at people like him, calling quality of life “the most fearsome three words in the English language.” This mindset, he argued, has only gotten worse during the pandemic, and his brother — who is also disabled — was questioned by a doctor about his potential quality of life after catching pneumonia.

“These laws promote writing-off people as having too low of a quality of life,” he said. “How dare that doctor ask a question like that when he would not ask it of someone with a similar case of pneumonia but had a so-called normal life? We ask people to just observe the crushing oppression of disabled people and the free-loading ideas in society that some people are better off dead than alive. I could be a poster boy for the ‘better dead than disabled’ movement.”

Meanwhile, Stephanie Packer, a Californian with her own history with assisted suicide, has continued to fight its legalization across the country. Packer was fighting cancer and her insurance company refused to cover treatment, offering to pay for assisted suicide drugs instead. She pointed out that California factored how much money assisted suicide would save when it was being considered in the state legislature.

“California predicted beforehand that they would save money by covering lethal drugs,” she said. “[Assisted suicide] is not who we are as people,” said Parker. “There are better ways. The voices of patients are being silenced right now, and they’re vulnerable of everything being pulled off because of money.”

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