Proponents of medical aid in dying, also known as physician-assisted suicide, say it can offer a peaceful death to those who are terminally ill. Critics say the process is unfairly stacked against people with disabilities. The two sides debated with Liz Neisloss on Greater Boston.
Medical aid in dying has strong support in Massachusetts and a bill to legalize it is before state legislators. Dan Diaz, an advocate whose wife, Brittany Maynard, ended her life through physician-assisted suicide after a terminal cancer diagnosis, is pushing lawmakers to pass the bill.
"Brittany was not going to allow the brain tumor to basically be in the driver's seat and dictate the amount of suffering she was going to endure," Diaz said. He and Maynard moved to Oregon in 2014 to get access to the treatment.
The legislation outlines that to qualify for medical aid in dying, a patient would need to be mentally sound and deemed terminally ill with six months or less to live. Two physicians would need to sign off on the practice. Once a patient receives the life-ending drugs and chooses to die, they would be required to take the medication without help. A patient would also be allowed to change their mind after receiving the drugs and opt not to consume them.
Diaz said without the legislation, people with terminal illnesses are currently taking matters into their own hands by consuming fatal doses of medication.
But John Kelly, director of Second Thoughts Massachusetts, is opposed to the bill. An accident left Kelly paralyzed from the neck down at the age of 25. He said many people who have chosen physician-assisted suicide did so not because of pain, but because of a loss of abilities and feeling like a burden on others. He said those are the same issues disabled people face.
"My own father wished that I had died in the accident," he said. "And people have told me they would rather be dead than be like me."
He added that there's a lack of proper home care, which can be expensive when available.
"People are faced with the choice of going to a nursing home or living at home with resentful helpers, not getting their needs met," he said.
Watch: Should physician-assisted suicide be allowed in Massachusetts?