Physician-assisted suicide bill fails to advance

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BOSTON — A controversial bill aimed at legalizing physician-assisted suicide in the Bay State appears to be off the table for the current legislative session.

The proposal was facing a key Thursday deadline, in which the joint legislative committee tasked with its review had to determine whether or not to issue a favorable report.

State Rep. Jim Lyons (R-Andover), who serves on the Joint Committee on Public Health — the body tasked with responding to the deadline — said members voted to recommend that the bill undergo further review.

“In effect, that means it’s dead,” Lyons said, adding that the decision was announced Wednesday morning.

Prior to filing the current version, state Rep. Louis Kafka (D-Stoughton) had filed three previous versions of the bill, in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

In all three instances, the bill failed to move out of committee. Wednesday’s announcement marks the fourth such instance.

Before Kafka took up the mantle of the controversial cause, Bay State lawmakers had quashed assisted suicide bills in 1995, 1997 and 2009. Additionally, voters in 2012 narrowly rejected “death with dignity” ballot initiative that sought to legalize the practice, with 51.9 percent of the populace voting against the ballot question, compared to 48.1 percent voting to approve it.

The committee held a public hearing on Kafka’s bill in early November.

Lyons was one of the most skeptical committee members and thoroughly questioned Kafka following the Stoughton lawmaker’s testimony.

“The law is called the Massachusetts Compassionate Care for the Terminally Ill Act, but so far what we know is that a patient will take this medication by themselves with no family members around,” Lyons said at the time. “The bill says an individual can make this choice and doesn’t even have to tell their family.

“What we’re doing is putting forth legislation and calling it compassionate care for the terminally ill and what I’ve just described doesn’t appear to be compassionate.”

Kafka acknowledged that his proposal would not require patients to contact family members prior to ingesting lethal doses of prescribed medicine.

The law would specifically allow anyone 18 years or older, diagnosed by a physician with a terminal illness and a maximum six month life expectancy, to request and receive a lethal dose of drugs, which Kafka has said can be prescribed in a drinkable form. While the patient would have the right to ingest the dose alone and without family consultation, he or she would still be required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation in order to confirm that depression or another mental illness is not exerting an undue influence.

Kafka has said he began filing versions of the legislation after meeting with a constituent stricken with terminal stomach cancer. The constituent has since died.