Death With Dignity Remains Controversial Among Disabled People

CW: Assisted Suicide

Supporters of allowing terminally ill people access to drugs to end their lives continue to target Massachusetts as a “priority” state. However, voters there narrowly rejected a similar measure over a decade ago.

A long-running campaign to achieve legislative approval for medical aid in dying has yet to gain apparent backing from prominent Democrats in the House and Senate, and supporters gathered at the State House on Wednesday said Massachusetts remained a top priority. At the same time, similar initiatives unfold in other states.

Rep. Jim O’Day of West Boylston, one of the proposal’s most outspoken supporters, remembers his father’s final days. “He talked about getting a black pill or some kind of pill and giving it to him or going so far as putting a pillowcase over his head,” O’Day said.

“I said, ‘Dad, I love you to death, but I couldn’t do that.’ I just could not do that. And I think there’s probably a whole lot of people in this room right now, today, that have had similar conversations. No matter how much we love that loved one, that’s a tall order, folks.”

Attendees were shown a video message from Massachusetts Death with Dignity board member David Rempell, who recorded himself lobbying for the legislation just weeks before his death in March.

Since 2008, legislation to allow medical aid in dying has been introduced in each two-year session, but Democrats who control the House and Senate have never brought it up for a vote.

Voters in 2012 rejected a statewide ballot question that would have authorized licensed physicians to provide life-ending medication to a consenting terminally ill patient who was likely to die within six months by a margin of 51-49 percent.

At the time, only Oregon, Washington State, and Montana had allowed medical aid in dying, either through ballot initiatives or through the legal system. According to Compassion and Choices, seven other states and Washington, D.C. have legalized the practice in the 11 years afterward, with approval received through legislation in all but Colorado.

The concept has remained contentious, with opponents claiming that approving the policy would expose people to coercion and abuse.

While a few dozen supporters gathered in the State House’s Nurses Hall on Wednesday for their lobby day, a pair of apparent medical aid in dying opponents stood around 20 feet behind the platform, holding homemade, handmade signs in protest.

Four disability groups filed a lawsuit aimed at overturning California’s assisted suicide law earlier this year, claiming that it devalues their lives and encourages discrimination against them.

The original California law permitting terminally ill persons to receive prescriptions for life-ending medications was passed in 2016. According to advocates, the amended version, which went into effect last year, lacks critical safeguards and violates the United States Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Plaintiffs in the federal action, filed in Los Angeles County, contend that people with disabilities and racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to use life-ending medications because those groups are less likely to obtain sufficient medical and mental health care.

However, proponents of California’s amended law claimed that the safeguards had become superfluous, time-consuming hurdles, and that other safeguards remained in the statute. Compassion & Choices, an organization that pushes for assisted suicide laws, published a 2017 survey that revealed 21% of people died or became too ill to proceed with the steps. Supporters of the bill stated that they were unaware of any abuse or coercion.

According to the lawsuit, those who may live indefinitely with competent medical care can be declared terminally ill and hence qualified for the medications if they would die within six months if such care were not available. This could include people with kidney diseases who refuse dialysis or diabetics who refuse insulin, according to the lawsuit.

It should not be easier for disabled people to die than to live. Disabled people shouldn’t be treated as a burden. Disabled people need support, and shouldn’t be afraid of death with dignity laws.


Shapiro, Joseph. “Disability Groups Say California’s Assisted Suicide Law Discriminates against Them.” NPR, NPR, 27 Apr. 2023,,Disability%20groups%20say%20California%27s%20assisted%20suicide%20law%20discriminates%20against%20them,and%20encourages%20discrimination%20against%20them. 

Thompson, Don. “Disability Rights Groups Sue to Overturn California’s Physician-Assisted Death Law.” KFF Health News, Kaiser Family Foundation , 27 Apr. 2023,

Lisinski, Chris. “Aid in Dying Supporters Renew Push, Citing ‘Shifts in the Dynamics.’” StateHouseNews.Com, 14 June 2023,

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