Testimony in Opposition to HB 1994/SB 1225, “An Act Relative to End of Life Options” Before the Joint Committee on Public Health

In keeping with policy voted upon in the past by the MMS House of Delegates, the Massachusetts Medical Society wishes to be recorded in opposition to HB 1994/SB 1225, An Act relative to end of life options. 

The Medical Society strongly affirms the importance of providing holistic, comprehensive, and supportive care to individuals with serious illness who are nearing the end of life. That commitment is reflected in our collaboration with like-minded organizations, as a member organization of the Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care and an Alliance Partner of Honoring Choices Massachusetts; in our support and advocacy for Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment; and in our efforts to educate physicians and the public through webinars and CMEs. Our policy states, “the Massachusetts Medical Society supports patient dignity and the alleviation of pain and suffering at the end of life.” 

The Medical Society at this time is, however, opposed to physicians writing lethal medication prescriptions for adult patients with terminal illness to take at such time as the patient sees fit - previously referred to as Physician Assisted Suicide and now by some referred to as Medical Aid in Dying. This position is in keeping with the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics, which states, “It is understandable although tragic, that some patients in extreme duress…may come to decide that death is preferable to life. However, allowing physicians to participate in assisted suicide would cause more harm than good. Physician assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer. Instead of participating in assisted suicide, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life… in order that these patients continue to receive emotional support, comfort care, adequate pain control … and good communication.”

The Medical Society membership is presently engaged in debate on this issue. Medical Society policy has opposed physician-assisted suicide since 1996, and the Medical Society House of Delegates reaffirmed that opposition in 2014. 

In 2016, our House of Delegates enacted policy “that MMS conduct a membership survey to determine attitudes of physicians and physicians-in-training in Massachusetts toward medical aid-in-dying.” That survey is currently ongoing, and results are expected later this year. The outcome of the survey will not necessarily dictate a change to Medical Society policy, but the survey will certainly inform the deliberations of the House of Delegates, MMS’s policy-making body.

The Medical Society appreciates this opportunity to engage in this conversation. We look forward to continuing our work with fellow stakeholders to promote high-quality end-of-life care for citizens throughout the Commonwealth.

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