Second Thoughts - Disability Rights Advocates Against Assisted Suicide


photo of statue of the thinker We are disability rights advocates from Massachusetts, and from states nearby and far, who oppose the legalization of assisted suicide. We demand social justice against crimes and policies fueled by the “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. In 2013, we helped stop in committee assisted suicide Bill H. 1998. We are now in a campaign to stop assisted suicide Bill H 1991 in committee.


The Joint Committee on Public Health has filed for an extension on 57 bills, including the assisted suicide bill, H 1991. The original deadline was today, but facing over 350 bills, these bills got a new deadline of June 30. The committee aide said that bills will be considered "on a rolling basis," and that "we don't even know when the bill will be taken up." That part sounded strange to me. They said that House Chair Kate Hogan does not have a position on the bill, and that's one reason an extension was filed. (It is thought that she leans towards supporting the bill).
The committee will either send the bill out of committee with a recommendation or decide to kill the bill – in legislative language, “send it to study.” That’s what we had expected to happen today.
Members of the Committee need to hear from constituents, especially from those of us in the disability community.
Please see the excellent spreadsheet compiled by Stephen Mendelsohn of Second Thoughts Connecticut.
We need to act quickly to coordinate visits, letters, and social media.
Most important to contact are the first first six legislators listed. Jason Lewis has in the past opposed assisted suicide bills because of the concerns of the disability community. Ruth Balser is a great champion of people with psychiatric diagnoses, but has said that she would study a bill with a mandatory psychological evaluation. The single evaluation involves a psychologist or psychiatrist judging the judgment of the person requesting assisted suicide. So even if you are depressed, feel like a burden on your family and caregivers, and are distressed about lost abilities and incontinence, they will likely find your judgment “unimpaired” if they consider your life not worth living. This kind of “quality of life” prejudice has for generations put the lives of disabled people in danger.


Disability rights advocates from Massachusetts and across the region made the case that assisted suicide laws are too dangerous at a hearing held by the Joint Committee on Public Health. In addition to the disability rights activists quoted below, more advocates came to testify, including geriatric social worker Cassie Cramer, Colin Killick of the Disability Policy Consortium, and Karen Schneiderman.

Cathy Ludlum and Stephen Mendelsohn of Second Thoughts Connecticut led off the hearing with powerful statements against the bill.

The WCVB video showed Ludlum saying that “The harsh reality is that those of us with disabilities will be the collateral damage in any formalized death-by-choice system that is created.”

Stephen Mendelsohn said, "Regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability have inherent dignity and we do not have to die to get it.”

Dr. Paul Carpentier represented the Massachusetts Medical Society. "Society should not want doctors to be involved in killing," Carpentier said. "Suicide eliminates the person rather than alleviating the suffering."

JJ Hanson, brain cancer survivor and president of the Patients Rights Action Fund, told the committee that

“If this legislation was legal at the time I could have had doctor-prescribed suicide pills on my nightstand,” he said. “I would have had them with me as I laid in bed during month five and questioned whether life was worth living.”

Hanson said he would be dead if the pills had been available.

“You can’t unmake that decision,” he said. “I’m here to point out the dangers when assisted suicide becomes the norm for terminally ill patients.”

Second Thoughts Massachusetts director John Kelly told WWLP that

“Thousands of Americans every year graduate from hospice, meaning they outlive the six months diagnosis.”


The day before, advocates participated in a legislative briefing against assisted suicide,“H 1991, QUESTION 2, AND THE OREGON EXPERIENCE: The Impact of Physician Assisted Suicide on Vulnerable Populations.

The event was so well attended that extra chairs had to be brought in.

Briefing sponsor Rep. Denise Provost (D- Somerville) introduced the briefing with a statement about how assisted suicide legislation is at cross purpose to the state policy of suicide prevention.

“We put mesh up on bridges now to stop people killing themselves, yet we are contemplating asking doctors, who in our culture are traditionally the healers and the helpers, to assist individuals to end their lives under certain circumstances,” said Provost, a Somerville Democrat.

Finn Gardiner, the Boston Community Coordinator for the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, said assisted death legislation would be “a Band-Aid for the real problem,” detracting attention from creating policy to improve the lives of people with disabilities and terminal illnesses.

“A better solution to ameliorate the issue with pain would be to provide high-quality palliative care, which would deal directly with the symptoms, and to focus more broadly on disability policy that allows people to have the support they need, whether it’s end of life support or continuing support,” Gardiner said.

Meghan Schrader spoke on behalf of of the Boston chapter of ADAPT.

Schrader described “systemic privilege,” which she described as “circumstances which the law cannot remediate,” as a major concern.

“Even though proponents put all these protections into the law you simply cannot apply those protections in the real world,” Schrader said. “It doesn’t matter what someone’s intentions are, we need to think about the social impact of this actual policy.”

Brian Shea represented MPOWER. Shea criticized the bill for allowing depressed people to get a prescribed overdose.

Brian Shea, who has cerebral palsy and depression and has worked as a peer specialist helping other people with mental health problems, said someone suffering from a terminal illness may become depressed, which "can interfere with the clarity of your thinking and also the ability to make decisions."

Although the bill requires an exam from a counselor, Shea said there is nothing to stop "counselor shopping" or "doctor shopping," finding counselors and doctors who are more likely to give the diagnosis needed for assisted suicide.

John Kelly talked about the disability prejudice that fuels the assisted suicide movement

“I’ve been told to my face — and many people have thought it in my presence — that they would rather be dead than like me,” said Second Thoughts Massachusetts director John Kelly, who is paralyzed below his shoulders and uses a power wheelchair he drives with his mouth. “That is not an uncommon prejudice in society, unfortunately. What the bill does is, people who have thought that all their lives now want to take action against themselves rather than get the assistance that they need and deserve.”

Autistic advocate Lydia Brown also joined the briefing and helped answer some audience questions.


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?


Midday October 5, 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown legalized assisted suicide in California. Brown’s short message to the legislature reeks of false statements and pathetic narcissism. Diane Coleman, President and CEO of Not Dead Yet, exposes the fallacies and falsehoods at the Not Dead Yet website. That statement is reprinted in full below.

To reach his decision, Brown writes that he reflected on what he himself would want if he “were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain.” But dying in unmanaged pain is inexcusable and an indictment of the medical professionals or hospital in charge.

As leading national palliative care expert Dr. Ira Byock has said repeatedly, pain is controllable. In testimony before a Vermont Senate committee, he said:

”If I thought lethal prescriptions were necessary to alleviate suffering I would support them. In 34 years of practice, I have never abandoned a patient to die in uncontrolled pain and have never needed to hasten a patient’s death.”

Jerry Brown cynically regurgitates the fear-mongering of assisted suicide advocates.

”I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others”.

Instead of pledging to fix his state’s underfunded and under-doctored palliative care system, Gov. Brown pumps up fear of pain so he can promise “comfort” through a state-run program of doctor-prescribed poisoning. He brushes aside his obligations to the racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of 39 million Californians, some of whom lose their lives every day under the harsh glare of social and healthcare inequality. Thinking only of himself and people like him, Brown manipulates fear to create the only healthcare “right” that poorer and despised groups of people have never asked for. To be killed with the blessings of the state.

NDY Denounces Governor’s Decision on Assisted Suicide Bill

Today, NDY was devastated and disgusted to learn that California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the assisted suicide bill that proponents rammed through a “special” session of the legislature convened to address the state’s Medicaid budget.

Governor Brown’s message accompanying his action states that he “carefully read” materials from opponents such as “those who champion disability rights,” but he nevertheless seems to have missed key facts.

For one, he says that “the crux of the matter is whether the State of California should continue to make it a crime for a dying person to end his life . . ..” Suicide is not a crime under California law (nor in other states), but assisted suicide proponents love to confuse people about that. The crime is when physicians and other third parties, such as the individual’s heirs, assist in suicide.

When confronted with that fact, proponents then often argue that old, ill and disabled people need help to commit suicide, which is another falsehood. As proponents promote on their website, any old, ill or disabled person can already commit suicide legally and peacefully in any state. So it is not a crime for a dying person to end his or her life peacefully, and Governor Brown’s stated “crux of the matter” is therefore mistaken.

Near the end of his short statement, Governor Brown said:

“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death. I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain.”

This reveals that he didn’t really learn very much about the advances in palliative care when it comes to physical pain. At this point in time, palliative care physicians are able to relieve physical pain, even if that may in some instances require palliative sedation.. Some people may feel that they don’t want to be made unconscious to relieve pain, but that’s a psycho-social issue. The implication that assisted suicide is needed to relieve physical pain is mistaken.

The Governor’s stated reasons are based on fallacies and his action must be denounced. When held up alongside the factually based and well considered reasons that disability rights organizations oppose legalization of assisted suicide – mistaken prognoses, insurance denials, family coercion and abuse, among others – his failure to veto the bill amounts to a breach of his duty to protect all Californians, not just the privileged few who can count on high quality health care and the support of a loving family.


As always, the best resources are at the website for Not Dead Yet and the The Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. See especially Not Dead Yet's Legislative Toolkit for information on how to advocate against legalization in state legislatures.

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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