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Lawmakers weigh bill to allow doctor-assisted suicide

October 26, 2015

BOSTON (AP) — Legislation that would let doctors prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients is heading to a public hearing on Beacon Hill.

The bill would require that the patient has a terminal illness or condition that can reasonably be expected to cause death within six months. The patient must self-administer the drugs.

The legislation would also require that before prescribing the drugs the doctor must inform the patient about the diagnosis, prognosis, risks associated with taking the medication and other treatment options, including palliative care.

The request must be made in writing and be witnessed by two people, as least one of whom isn’t a relative of the patient or someone who would be entitled to any part of the patient’s estate.

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.

The legislation is up for a public hearing Tuesday before the Legislature’s Public Health Committee.

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

A similar question was put to voters on the 2012 ballot and lost narrowly. Supporters argued at the time that the proposal allowed terminally ill patients the choice to end their suffering. They also said the proposal included effective safeguards, such as prohibiting doctors from prescribing to depressed patients.

Religious, medical and disability rights groups fought the measure, saying it was open to manipulation and relied on diagnoses that could be wrong.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, leaders of millions of Roman Catholics in the state, called the defeat the best outcome for the “common good.”

Opponents also spent far more than supporters, to help persuade voters to reject the proposal.

Leaders on Beacon Hill seem divided.

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.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a fellow Democrat, said he’s waiting to see what the committee recommends after Tuesday’s hearing.

Last year, a similar bill stalled after it was sent to a study committee, a common way of essentially ensuring no action will be taken on a bill before the end of the formal session.

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