By John Berkowitz, Aaron Vega, John Scibak and Ellen Story: W. Mass. candidates pledge support for 'Death With Dignity' bill

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NORTHAMPTON — The writers, three of whom are legislators in Western Massachusetts and supporters of Death with Dignity, also known as medical and compassionate aid in dying, were glad to participate in a press conference on Aug. 28 in Northampton sponsored by Pioneer Valley Death with Dignity. Many candidates running for seats in the Legislature from all over Western Massachusetts announced their support and pledged to work, if elected, for the passage of "The End of Life Options Act" (H1194).

Although they couldn't attend, Berkshire County Representatives Paul Mark and Smitty Pignatelli are supporters and cosponsors of this "Death with Dignity" bill, and will be again when it is re-introduced in January in the next legislative session. State Sen. Adam Hinds, through his legislative staff, has verbally indicated his support for such a bill.

It would offer a legal option for our citizens who are terminally ill, mentally capable, and facing great pain and unrelieved suffering at the end of their lives. It would ensure them the option of a peaceful, humane death by self-administering a medication from their doctor that would put them to sleep and end their suffering as well as that of their family and loved ones.

Seven other states, including neighboring Vermont, have passed such laws over the past 21 years, and there have been no documented cases of abuse or coercion of any vulnerable person, such as elderly, low-income, disabled, or minority group members.

One of us who spoke is Rep. Aaron Vega of Holyoke. I've served since 2013, am running unopposed in 2018, and am vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities. I wouldn't support this bill as a co-sponsor with 45 other legislators if I weren't convinced that there are strong safeguards in the bill to protect against possible discrimination or abuse against vulnerable people, such as those with disabilities.

Rep. John Scibak noted that two of the three candidates running for the seat he's retiring from after 15 years had signed the Statement of Support for Death with Dignity, and one attended and spoke at the press conference. But a third candidate, Daniel Carey of Easthampton, won the race. He hasn't publicly expressed yet his views and position on this issue, and I encourage him to do so soon.

I (Rep. Scibank) added: "It's a matter of choice. If people can refuse or terminate treatment, such as Sen. John McCain did recently, why shouldn't they be able to decide when and how to die?"

In the Senate race for the Hampshire, Franklin, and Worcester County district, all four candidates — Chelsea Kline, Jo Comerford, Steven Connor, and Ryan O'Donnell — signed the statement, attended, and pledged their support for the Death with Dignity bill. The winner of that race, Jo Comerford, spoke about her aunt's difficult death, and her wish that she had the option of Death with Dignity at that time.

In the race for the new state rep. for Amherst, I (Ellen Story, former Amherst's rep.), was pleased to have both candidates present and speaking out, and Mindy Domb won the primary race. She spoke eloquently about why she supports passing The End of Life Options Act. I added that both my parents had a difficult dying process, and they and I wished that this option of a peaceful, humane death had been available to them.

We all believe that it's time for this bill to pass in 2019, and make Massachusetts the eighth state to offer this option of a peaceful and dignified death to its terminally ill citizens if their suffering becomes too great at the end.

More information about this issue can be obtained from Pioneer Valley Death with Dignity, John Berkowitz, director, 413-387-8439 or johnpberk@gmail.com

John Berkowitz of Northampton co-authored this column with Aaron Vega, state representative, Holyoke (2013-); John Scibak, retiring state representative, South Hadley, Hadley, Easthampton (2003-2018); and Ellen Story, retired state representative, Amherst, Pelham (1992-2014).


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