By Nicki Gitter & Helen Luo
BU News Service
CAMBRIDGE–Should someone who is terminally ill have the right to terminate his or her own life? Last week, Cambridge residents were eager to discuss their opinions.
Last month, the Joint Committee on Public Health held a hearing at the Massachusetts State House to discuss the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. The legislation–“End of Life Options Act”–is comprised of Senate Bill 1225 and House Bill 1194, and is being spearheaded by Massachusetts Rep. Lou Kafka and Sen. Barbara L’Italien.
This hearing came on the heels of a similar Cambridge City Council meeting last September during which members voted in favor of a resolution to support medical aid in dying services. With a vote of nine to zero, Cambridge is the first city in Massachusetts to support such aid.
The act proposes a law which provides mentally competent, terminally ill adults who have been diagnosed with six months or less to live the option to obtain life-ending medication via a doctor’s prescription.
Proponents of the initiative stated that end of life options should be a personal choice. Others disagree, explaining that such services violate a doctor’s oath to “do no harm.”
David Franks, the chairman of the board for Massachusetts Citizens for Life, an organization in Cambridge that works to influence public policy regarding the protection of human life, explained why the organization is not in support of legalizing medical aid in dying services.
In an interview via Skype, Franks said his organization feels it is important to take care of those that are ill instead of simply letting them die and that, while proponents of the bill may believe that a “right to die” is an individual choice, it is a decision that ultimately affects other people.
Margot Kempers, a Cambridge resident who played an active role in passing the Cambridge City Council resolution last year, explained why she was such a major proponent of medical aid in dying services during an interview at her home in Cambridge.
“I personally see this as an individual right,” she said. “It’s not me telling you what to do, it’s me saying don’t you tell me what to do.”
Kempers explained that she has been working towards passing this law since 2012. In 2016, she worked closely with another resident, Alice Howard, to get the City Council to pass the resolution.
“It was a very collaborative effort. We worked together,” Kempers said. “It was grassroots. We had support from some organizations, but we worked directly with city councilors to try to help them understand how we saw the issue and why we felt it was important.”
Other Cambridge residents in the Central Square neighborhood said they had similar opinions regarding medical aid in dying services.
“I think if someone has complete control over their thoughts and they’re not mentally unstable anyway, that they can make the right decision for them,” said Victor Fink, an undergraduate student at MIT.
Kathleen McMahon, a software engineer living in Cambridge, said she felt similarly.
“If someone is ill, or is suffering…they should have that choice, to end their life in a compassionate way,” she said. “There’s not enough compassion in this world. We need more of it.”
Tamar Edingen, a Cambridge artist, also agreed that individuals should have the ability to decide how and when they want to die.
“I don’t think there should be any interference on that,” she said.
Manula Subramanian, a Cambridge resident, reflected on what type of services she might want if faced with such a situation.
“I think I would want that choice if I were in that position,” she said. “It gives [you] a little bit of power over what’s happening to you.”