Second Thoughts - Disability Rights Advocates Against Assisted Suicide


photo of statue of the thinker We are disability rights advocates from Massachusetts and the region who oppose the legalization of assisted suicide is a deadly form of discrimination against disabled people. We demand social justice against crimes, policies, and media messages fueled by a “better dead than disabled” mindset. We organized in 2012 to help defeat assisted suicide Ballot Question 2. High turnout among black and Latino voters made victory certain. We helped defeat last session’s assisted suicide bill and led a month-long campaign against the disability snuff film "Me before You."


Long time assisted suicide proponent Rep Louis Kafka (D-Stoughton) has filed bill H.1194, while in the Senate, Senator Barbara L’Italien (D-Lawrence) filed bill S.1225 with identical language. Both bills are titled “Massachusetts End of Life Options Act.” The bills are active for the legislative session that runs from January 2017-December 2018, and have been referred to the Joint Committee on Public Health.
Both bills are similar to last session’s bill H.1991,, which was titled “An Act Affirming a Terminally Ill Patient’s Right to Compassionate Aid in Dying.” H.1991 died in the Joint Committee on Public Health in June, 2016.

Assisted suicide laws threaten all state residents because of the inevitability of misdiagnosis, insurer denial of treatment, and abuse.


At its interim meeting in December, the Massachusetts Medical Society voted to commission a survey of its members on “medical aid in dying,” the latest euphemism deployed by assisted suicide proponents. A motion from the floor to title the survey “physician-assisted suicide” was defeated. In both California and Colorado, the state medical societies withdrew their opposition to assisted suicide in the run-up to legalization.
More information coming soon on outreach opportunities to the new president, Dr. James Gessner, and the society.


Assisted Suicide Now Banned under Common Law

The media has given prominent play to a lawsuit filed by Cape Cod Dr. Roger Kligler, who says he has metastatic prostate cancer and would like the option of physician-assisted suicide. The suit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court last October against Attorney General Maura Healey and the district attorney for the Cape and Islands Michael O’Keefe, asks the court to declare assisted suicide a constitutional right, and legal because it is not explicitly prohibited by statute.

The illegality of assisted suicide is common-law, which is based on principles, customs and case law, rather than on a specific statute. Attorney General Healey responded that this is a matter for the legislature. O’Keefe has filed notice of a motion to dismiss, which is still pending.

The earliest a hearing could be held would be sometime in March. Second Thoughts will help coordinate an action when the hearing is held.


  • Everyone's life is of equal value – the foundation of a democratic society.
  • Everyone deserves equal access to suicide prevention services.
  • Depression is treatable, death isn’t.
  • "Terminal illness" is a tragic joke of a diagnosis. Misdiagnosis inevitably leads to the death of innocent people.
  • Elder and disability abuse are already rampant. Innocent people will be pushed into suicide by family and heirs who see them as a “burden” or source of a cash windfall.
  • Cost-cutting insurers will discourage, delay, and deny treatments that will benefit people. Innocent people will die for the bottom line.
  • People with disabilities – including people disabled by their illness – will be encouraged to commit suicide because society views dependence on other people as a fate worse than death.
  • Physical pain in dying people is a medical problem that effective palliative care can solve.
  • Only one social group is calling for assisted suicide, led by privileged secular white professionals. This group should not make public health policy based on its own suicide problem. Black people, Latinos, and working-class people of all backgrounds oppose assisted suicide by big margins.

June 2016: Assisted Suicide Bill Dies in Committee!

The Joint Committee On Public Health has declined to advance the latest assisted suicide bill, H 1991, euphemistically titled “An act affirming a terminally ill patient’s right to compassionate aid in dying.”
Congratulations to all the disability rights advocates and allies who worked against the bill.
Thank you to the state legislature, which for the fifth time in seven years rejected an assisted suicide bill. A special thank you to Somerville Rep. Denise Provost, who campaigned for us as a matter of social justice.
The committee and public heard from disability disability rights advocates through personal visits, a legislative briefing sponsored by Rep. Provost, and irrefutable testimony at the October 2015 hearing.
Influential advocacy came from grassroots groups including the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), Boston Disability Commission, Disability Policy Consortium, Mass ADAPT, MPOWER, and Second Thoughts MA. Other disability-led organizations remained in opposition. The Massachusetts Medical Society and other medical groups continued their opposition.

June 26 protests against “Me Before You””

Disability rights advocates and allies held a fourth consecutive weekend protest against the Hollywood film, “Me Before You,” at the AMC Loews Boston Common 19, on June 24.
“Me Before You” is a product of the bigoted imagination of JoJo Moyes, who wrote the screenplay based on her novel of the same name. Part of what inspired her, she told GoodReads “was just questions I had in my head about quality of life. At what point does the quality become meaningless? At what point do you give someone the right to decide for themselves?”
The book and movie is a straightforward argument that people with significant disabilities have “meaningless” lives, that we and everyone around us are better off with us dead.
Moyes didn’t bother to talk to any real quadriplegics before writing the book, and seems to have animated the character of Louisa Clark (Emelia Clarke) with her own personal disgust at the needs of disabled people.
As Carol Sutton writes at Not Dead Yet,

“The film makers have carefully made sure that the primary, disabled character, Will, has no reason to commit suicide other than disability. They’ve made him young, extremely wealthy, good looking, with plenty of family support, in love with the love of his life who also loves him. So, the only possible function of this movie is a very direct attack, targeting the disability rights movement and making money off our oppression as a minority group.”


Another great protest at the Regal Fenway Stadium 13. In raw, cloudy, near-drizzly weather, six activists joined me and my helper Peter. Great to see Kevin H and Don Summerfield, Martina Robinson and her friend, Mark Edwards. Ruthie Poole and her friend Susan Landy.

We handed out hundreds more flyers to moviegoers and passersby People held a banner against the film which was used in local actions across the country.

We fine-tuned our message to "we are protesting this disability hating movie. It sends the message that if you're disabled, you're better off dead."

One middle-aged white woman stopped, said "I apologize, I saw this film and it was terrible."
Quite a few people were bewildered that such a movie could be made, and said that "I won't be seeing it."

I told a number of people that "I'm sick of seeing myself killed on screen." Some nodded in understanding. A young black woman responded "we're always the first to go." An East Asian-appearing man said that he understood, as he also see his experience distorted on screen.

His friend engaged in a thoughtful conversation with Ruthie and me, and while he started with a defense of assisted suicide, was open to the doubts we tried to sow. On his own, he made the comparison to the death penalty. Ruthie and I emphasized that just like the death penalty, the state cannot run such a program without mistakes and coercion costing innocent people their lives.

One theater employee came out and told us that he had called the cops. When he came back an hour later, I cheerfully announced "we're still here!" He was not amused. The police had better things to do.

Shout out to Martina, Ruthie, and Don, who have come to both of the Fenway protests. Special recognition goes to three-time protester Kevin H, who has been to both Fenway protests and joined me and my assistant Emma at the advanced screening at the Boston Common almost 2 weeks ago.


Please see 20 second videos from the 1st protest on June 3.
In the first video, we are chanting “Lives Worth Living!.
In the second video, we chant “Hey Hey Ho Ho, Ableism Has Got to Go!


Please see the DisBeat page for a comprehensive list of resources.
Members of Not Dead Yet UK protested the London premiere on May 24 and garnered significant mainstream media coverage (Guardian, Buzzfeed) during the protest and in the days following.

Disability rights writers and bloggers have also been blasting the film for its oppressive portrayal of living with significant disabilities like quadriplegia. Examples include articles by disability studies scholar Bill Peace and activist and filmmaker Dominick Evans. Some have been featured in mainstream outlets like Emily Ladau’s article in Salon , Lauren West’s in Huffington Post and Ben Mattlin’s in the Chicago Tribune.

One of the biggest concerns of the disability community is the message this movie sends to the 12,000 individuals who have new spinal cord injuries each year in the U.S. alone. Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living, is a spinal cord injured husband and father. “Our society places a high value on physical appearance and ability and at the same time really stigmatizes significant disability,” says Buckland. “We understand what it means to deal with issues like the loss of one’s former dreams as well as the loss of physical abilities. When someone is first hit with this, they may spend time feeling that they’d be better off dead. If assisted suicide had been legal in the past, many of us would not be here today.”

All major national disability organizations that have taken a position on assisted suicide oppose legalizing it.


Insurance Denial. Poorer people, disabled people, and people of color have trouble getting ANY care. It’s no “choice” when your insurer denies you treatment but offers you suicide. Assisted suicide will always be the cheapest treatment. Your assisted suicide saves insurers money!

Abuse. Elder abuse and abuse of people with disabilities are epidemic. It is estimated that 1 in 10 Massachusetts older adults are abused every year, 90% of it by adult children and caregivers. Nothing in the law can stop an heir or abusive caregiver from steering someone towards assisted suicide, witnessing the request, picking up the lethal dose, and even administering the drug -- no witnesses are required at the death, so who would know? The Oregon law has invited every sort of abuse.

Mistakes. Every year, physician misdiagnosis impacts 12 million Americans, putting half at risk of severe harm. H 1991 could make that harm lethal. So if you receive your prescribed overdose from a doctor and their colleague who totally misdiagnosed you, no one could ever know your life was cut short by months, years, or decades.

Depression. Massachusetts shouldn’t be telling depressed and suicidal people that suicide is a good solution to suffering. Oregon’s law doesn’t care about your depression as long as you have approved motives like “feeling like a burden” . The bill endangers bullied LGBTQ, autistic, intellectually disabled, and all young people who will be encouraged to see suicide as a reasonable response to suffering. “Suicide contagion” is real.

Race/Ethnicity & Social Class. As the voting results from Ballot Question 2 in 2012 show, assisted suicide pits wealthier, whiter districts against those with poorer people and people of color. For long-standing reasons, Blacks and Latinos oppose assisted suicide by 2-1 margins. The four most Latino cities in the Commonwealth – Lawrence, Chelsea, Holyoke, and Springfield – all voted strongly against Question 2. If assisted suicide was a benefit for everyone, it wouldn’t just be one social group using it. 97% of Oregon prescribed suicides have been non-Hispanic whites.

Hollow safeguards. Previous bills had a 15 day waiting period that proponents said protected patients. Now there is no waiting period. H 1991 requires involvement by professionals only until the lethal drugs are picked up from the pharmacy. The bill doesn’t require an official witness at the death and denies the state authority to enforce or investigate.

Unnecessary. Good palliative care makes dying people comfortable – uncontrolled pain is completely unacceptable. The bill’s advocates say it is all about pain, but the leading suicide motives are about distress over disability.

Disability prejudice “Better dead than disabled” is a belief that’s all too often acted on. Medical professionals already discourage treatment for us that is routine for everyone else. Will we get suicide prevention or suicide assistance?

Important past stories on Second Thoughts/ Question 2 in 2012

  • Ben Matlin has an op-ed in the New York Times of November 1 entitled
"Suicide by Choice? Not so Fast"
  • Victoria Reggie Kennedy's article opposing Question 2 entitled "We are better than that" reprinted widely throughout Massachusetts.
  • Green-Rainbow party local leader Grace Ross examines the carelessness of Question 2 with lethal drugs in this article
  • Extensive coverage on Boston Public Radio Station WBUR:
All Things Considered

John Kelly versus Marcia Angell Part I on Radio Boston

John Kelly versus Marcia Angell,Part II on Morning Edition with Bob Oakes

Personal Side of the Story

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