Supporters of legislation that would legalize the right to die for the terminally ill packed a Statehouse hearing Tuesday alongside opponents.
The two bills would allow those with a terminal illness or condition to ask their doctor for life-ending drugs.
Supporters said the legislation would give those nearing death a sense of control. They said the bills include protections to ensure those seeking life-ending drugs are acting on their own and are not succumbing to depression or outside pressure.
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Critics say they worry about creating any state-sanctioned method of ending lives. They say they are also concerned that the bills would send the message that the lives of the very ill are less valued than others.
Under the legislation, it would be up to the patient to decide whether to take the pills. The patient would be required to make both an oral and written request. The written request must be witnessed by at least two individuals who must attest that the patient is not being coerced to make the request.
The patient would have to self-administer the pills.
Roger Kligler, a 67-year-old doctor living in Falmouth, said as a physician, one of the most important ways he could serve his patients was to be there as they transitioned to death.
Kligler, who suffers from metastatic cancer, testified at Tuesday's public hearing before the Legislature's Public Health Committee in favor of the legislation. It wasn't his first time speaking to lawmakers.
"Since I testified in 2017 my cancer has spread to other sites. My clock is winding down," Kligler said.
"Since I retired, I've become a resource for many people to help them understand their options. They want the option to end their suffering and don't understand why the Legislature has not authorized this bill. Neither do I," he added.
John Kelly, who is disabled and uses a wheelchair, spoke against the bills.
He said the doctors who could end up prescribing the pills meant to allow someone to end their lives aren't required to have specialized training or know anything about the individual's home life.
Kelley, who is the director of the group Second Thoughts Massachusetts, said he also feared the bills could open the door to lessening the perceived value of other lives.
"Remember there's no going back," Kelley said. "States are not good administrators of death programs. And when death is perceived as a benefit it's only natural that people would want to extend its availability."
Other opponents said they worry that more vulnerable populations, including minorities, may be at greater risk if the bills were to pass.
A number of states, including California and Vermont, have approved similar bills.
The debate about aid-in-dying has been hard fought in Massachusetts for years. In 2012 state voters narrowly rejected a ballot question that would have allowed doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to the terminally ill.
In 2017, The Massachusetts Medical Society said it was no longer opposed to medical aid in dying as an end-of-life option for the terminally ill.
Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday that he was interested in listening to Tuesday's testimony.
"This is an issue obviously that on a very personal level people wrestle with all the time," Baker told reporters. "As I get older I run into more and more of them."
The bills must still be debated and voted on by both the Massachusetts House and Senate before being sent to Baker's desk for consideration.
Dozens of lawmakers have signed on to co-sponsor the bills.