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Letter in the Boston Globe by Ellen Leigh

Activists within the disability rights community have justifiable fears

June 28, 2023

Jeff Jacoby’s column “For assistance in dying, please press 1” warns against the legalization of assisted suicide, especially highlighting its significant risks. As a disabled person, I share these concerns deeply.

Activists within the disability rights community fear that legalized assisted suicide could lead to coercion. Families might see it as a way to avoid caregiving; insurers might prefer it over costly treatments; and health care professionals, influenced by biases about quality of life, could steer patients toward this irreversible option.

Despite claims of compassion, legalizing assisted suicide risks perpetuating systemic ableism and potential abuse. Instead of offering death as a solution, we should prioritize bolstering support systems and health care for disabled individuals.

Comprehensive support services are crucial but often neglected. We already lack equitable and robust disability support systems, and the resulting problems lead to the underlying issues that push individuals toward considering assisted suicide.

Massachusetts must heed these concerns. Legalization of assisted suicide threatens the fundamental rights of disabled individuals to live with the respect and supports we deserve.

Ellen Leigh, Arlington

The writer is a member of Second Thoughts MA: Disability Rights Advocates Against Assisted Suicide.

MA News

Mourning the Loss of Paul Spooner

Disability advocates around the country are mourning the loss and remembering the leadership of Paul Spooner who died unexpectedly on October 8, 2022.

Tribute from John Kelly (Second Thoughts MA)

Paul Spooner, the longtime Executive Director of MetroWest Center for Independent living, passed away suddenly Saturday, October 9.

I spoke to Paul last Tuesday, hoping that he might be able to come speak to our rally against court ordered assisted suicide programs on Thursday, but he said that he would have to take a pass because he wasn’t going out much to protect against getting COVID.

I thanked Paul again for generously hosting a webpage for Second Thoughts MA on the MWCIL server ever since 2012. And he more than generously permitted his web person, Sue Rorke, to manage the website for us.

I first met Paul at the 1987 Sexual Attitude Reassessment seminar in Boston. He was very friendly and mentoring.

When Paul was President of the National Council on Independent Living, he was instrumental in making sure that Not Dead Yet got its message heard.

Paul was the first speaker for the reconstituted Boston Disability Commission’s ADA celebration in 2011, and as a pca user himself, he led efforts to improve personal care options. His most recent victory was helping persuade Medicare to allow, for the first time, working disabled people to retire without losing access to CommonHealth (Medicaid buy-in). Before this crucial change, I had been told that the only way to stay on CommonHealth was to keep working until I die. Paul’s work made my life and many other people’s lives better.

That’s the mark of an effective leader! Thank you, Paul.

Tribute from Diane Coleman and Not Dead Yet

Paul Spooner helped ensure that NDY’s message against the “better dead than disabled” mindset was heard by disability advocates at hundreds of CILs.

From Not Dead Yet: In Not Dead Yet’s early years in the late 1990s, Paul was President of the National Council on Independent Living and helped ensure that our message against the “better dead than disabled” mindset was heard by disability advocates at hundreds of CILs. This led to the NCIL membership’s adoption of a formal Resolution Opposing the Legalization of Assisted Suicide in 1997. Under Paul’s leadership, the MetroWest CIL hosted the early NDY website for several years. More recently, his Center has been hosting Second Thoughts Massachusetts’ website.

Paul’s decades of dedication to disability rights will not be forgotten.

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Oppose Court Ordered Suicide, Join Rally Oct. 13

Join us for a rally to tell the MA Supreme Court that court-ordered assisted suicide is WRONG for Massachusetts!

Please join Second Thoughts MA and Not Dead Yet for a rally to show the MA State Supreme Court that the issue of assisted suicide should be decided in the legislature, not by a handful of elite judges! Here’s what you need to know about this issue: 

  • The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) is currently deliberating Kligler v Healey, a case concerning whether assisted suicide is a state constitutional right. 
  • If the plaintiffs (Kligler) win, assisted suicide will be legal in MA, bypassing the legislature and 20 years of effective advocacy by disability rights advocates.
  • Court ordered assisted suicide in Canada is killing disabled people. In US states where assisted suicide is legal, people with anorexia, diabetes, and depression are dying unnecessary deaths.

When: Thursday, October 13th from 11:30AM-1:00PM EST. 

Where: In front of the John Adams Courthouse, 1 Pemberton Square, Boston, MA. Adjacent to 1 Ashburton Place, around the corner from the Statehouse (see map below).

What: A peaceful rally — holding signs, listening to speakers, and handing out pamphlets. PLEASE WEAR A MASK IF YOU ARE ABLE TO DO SO.

Please RSVP here to let us know if you’re coming. Bring as many people with you as you can.

Please be sure to share these event details in trusted networks only. 

Got questions or access needs? Please email See you in the streets!

Map of Pemberton Square -  John Adams Courthouse is at the intersection of Ashburton Place and Somerset Street, within the Pemberton Square Complex.
The John Adams Courthouse is at the intersection of Ashburton Place and Somerset Street, within the Pemberton Square Complex.

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The Answer Is Not Medically Assisted Suicide – Disabled People Demand Full Civil, Human Rights

Click here for a PDF image scan of the article and the page it appears on in the Quincy Sun. The full, screen reader accessible text of the article is below.]

by John B. Kelly for The Quincy Sun, August 18, 2022

38 years ago an accident left me paralyzed below my shoulders. My father was brokenhearted and wished I had died instead. His hopelessness about my life, however painful for me, was but a simple reflection of widespread prejudice against disabled people.

A few years after my injury, Jack Kevorkian became a sort of folk hero for “helping” terminally ill people die through his “self deliverance” machine. It later came out that more than two thirds of his clients were not terminal at all, but disabled people, primarily women, in psychological distress.

Over time, as medicine has focused increasingly on patient “quality-of-life” as a barometer of life-worthiness, death has been recharacterized as a benefit to an ill or disabled individual. Most physicians (82%, a Harvard study recently found) view our “quality-of-life” as worse. Disability advocates have raised concerns about the fate of disabled people like Oregonian Sarah McSweeney and Texan Michael Hickson. Both wanted to live, both were loved by family and caregivers, but they died after hospital personnel denied them treatment based on their disabilities.

Over the last 25 years first Oregon, then additional states and Washington DC established assisted suicide programs for people expected to die within six months. Proponent rhetoric has focused on compassion for people’s physical pain and suffering, and the hope of a choiceful, peaceful end.

The reality, as shown by the top five reported “end of life concerns” in Oregon, hinge not on pain, but on people’s “existential distress,” as one study termed it, in reaction to the disabling features of their illness: depending on and feeling like a burden on other people, losing abilities, losing the respect of self and others (“loss of dignity”), and shame over incontinence.

Prominent bioethicist Thaddeus Pope concedes that “Everybody who’s using medical aid in dying is disabled. And probably you could go to the next step and say the reason they want medical aid in dying is because of their disability.” To Pope, any disability a patient finds “personally intolerable” is sufficient reason to assist their suicide.

In Massachusetts, assisted suicide bills have been put forward every session for the last 20 years. Proponents proclaim strong public support for the measure, but that support is shallow. In the weeks leading up to the 2012 ballot question on assisted suicide, polls showed 64% support.* The ballot question lost, 51%-49%.  Now supporters say that 77% of Massachusetts residents support the bill, based on a poll question seeking compassion for terminally ill people “to end their suffering,” with its implication of physical pain.

State House Speaker Ron Mariano declared “We have a very divided House of Representatives. There’s not a 77 percent affirmative vote in the House right now.”

With the end of the legislative session on July 31, the bill died.

Disability rights advocates appreciate the willingness of many legislators to take our concerns seriously. We worry, with death reframed as a benefit for severely disabled people, that increased legalization will bring expansion of eligibility. Pope points out that the US is unique in the world for limiting assisted suicide to terminal people, and that every other jurisdiction, including Canada, offers euthanasia on demand to non-dying disabled people. He predicts that non-terminal disabled people will become eligible in the US. In Canada, disabled people have been euthanized because they were denied needed care or couldn’t find safe housing for multiple chemical sensitivities.

There are unsolvable problems with all assisted suicide laws. First, real choice resides with insurers, whose bottom line favors delay or denial of treatment. Dr. Brian Callister reported trying to refer two patients for life-saving but expensive procedures in Oregon and California, only to hear that the insurers limited coverage to hospice and assisted suicide.

Second, when people feel they have lost their dignity and feel like a burden on others, they are vulnerable to pressure and outright coercion to sacrifice themselves for others benefit. Abuse yearly affects one in 10 elders, exacerbated by COVID-19 restrictions. A self-interested heir can push a patient to make the request, serve as a witness along with a “friend,” pick up the drugs and, because no disinterested witness is required at the death, administer the drugs themselves. The law grants immunity to anyone who assists in the death who say they acted “in good faith.” Deadly abuse goes unpunished and unnoticed.

Third, terminal prognoses are notoriously inaccurate. NPR reported a few years ago that nearly one in five people who enter hospice survive the six-month benefit. Oregon revealed last year that just 4% of patients live past six months, meaning that the difference between 4% and almost 20% represents the body count of people who weren’t really dying. People who oppose capital punishment because of the inevitability of executing an innocent person should take note.

The 2012 Massachusetts ballot results and the patient demographics in states like California show there is a social class, race, and ethnicity component in the use of and support for assisted suicide. A 2013 Pew Research Center study showed that Blacks oppose assisted suicide by 65%-29%, and Latinos by 65%-32%. Majority Latino Lawrence voted 69% against the 2012 question, while white working class towns like Taunton and Gardner also opposed. Wealthier, whiter Massachusetts towns voted heavily in favor. In California, 94% of reported assisted suicides have been by non-Hispanic whites, more than twice the group’s share of the state population. Almost no black people have used the program.

The answer is to address people’s real needs. That means a fully funded Medicare home care benefit to reduce burden and keep people out of nursing homes. It means more and better palliative care. And for people whose discomfort cannot be otherwise relieved, there is the option of palliative sedation, whereby a person is sedated to the point of comfort while the dying process takes place.

The answer is not medically assisted suicide. We disabled people demand full civil and human rights, equal protection under the law, equal suicide prevention, and more respect throughout society.

John B. Kelly is the director of Second Thoughts MA

*Note to readers: in the hardcopy version of this essay, John Kelly wrote that polls showed 68% support for the 2012 Ballot Question 2 weeks before the election. The relevant Suffolk University poll, however, taken September 17, 2012, shows that support at 64%. We made the change to the accurate number.

Read The Answer Is Not Medically Assisted Suicide – Disabled People Demand Full Civil, Human Rights.

Not Dead Yet also published the article.

Hearings Information MA News

Statement against S.1384 by John B. Kelly

Opponents for legalized assisted suicide held a virtual legislative briefing on Tuesday, May 10, which prompted news outlets to seek a statement from Second Thoughts director John Kelly.

Download John Kelly’s statement against S.1384, or scroll down to read.

Over the last 15 years, the Mass legislature and, in 2012, the people of the state, have wisely rejected the legalization of assisted suicide as too dangerous. The legislature should likewise reject S1384, which despite its name does not provide dying people “end-of-life options.”

The tragic reality is that under legalized assisted suicide, some people’s lives will be ended without their true consent, through misdiagnosis, persuasion, coercion and abuse, insurance denials and depression. No safeguards have ever been enacted or proposed that can prevent this outcome, which can never be undone.

NPR reported five years ago that up to 20% of people who enter hospice outlive their six months prognosis. In Oregon, 4% of people who enter the assisted suicide program are alive at the end of six months. The difference between 4% and 20% is the percent of people and their families who may have lost months, years, and in some cases decades of meaningful life.

There is no way to contain eligibility to a narrow set of people. Anorexia nervosa and diabetes now qualify as terminal conditions in other states. Disabled people like me are eligible in Canada, and some predict disabled people will be eligible here.

Proponents always talk about pain and suffering, but the end-of-life concerns in Oregon show that people are upset about depending on other people and are feeling like a burden.

Just as many people disqualify me from full humanity because of my disability, some people disqualify themselves and are disqualified by others when they need help.

The state of Massachusetts must not sponsor people’s suicides because other people consider them a burden, because they believe they are dying when they are not, and because they have been denied the treatment and support services that would keep them alive.

NPR – Nearly 1 in 5 hospice patients discharged while still alive.

MA News News

Globe – Push for assisted suicide raises questions over disability rights

Please read John Kelly’s printed letter to the Boston Globe in response to other letters. You can:

John Kelly letter to the Boston globe

Push for assisted suicide raises questions over disability rights

September 7, 2021

In response to an essay on the Victorian fantasy of a peaceful death, two letter writers (“Beyond the fantasy of a gentle death,” Aug. 29) called on the state Legislature to pass the proposed assisted suicide bill.

Paula Bacon and Molly DeHaas Walsh describe the circumstances of difficult deaths and believe that assisted suicide would bring them control, choice, and dignity when their pain and suffering become unbearable.

But when doctors misdiagnose people as terminal, the possibility of real choice disappears. Studies show that 12 percent to 15 percent of people outlive hospice, but in Oregon, with its Death With Dignity Act, only about 4 percent of people have lived past six months. This suggests that as many as 1 in 10 people ended their life prematurely. No one would tolerate any other elective treatment this deadly.

The Oregon reports show that the main “end-of-life concerns” stem not from physical pain but from “existential distress” over the disabling aspects of serious illness, such as dependence, status loss (“dignity”), incontinence, and feeling like a burden on others.

As someone paralyzed below the shoulders, I am terrified of the prospect of a state law sponsoring people’s suicides as rational responses to disability. Massachusetts should instead fully fund home care and provide world-class palliative care. Equality under the law depends on it.

John B. Kelly, Boston

The writer is director of the disability rights group Second Thoughts MA, which opposes the legalization of assisted suicide.

MA News News

MA Bills Filed

March 2021: Identical House and Senate bills have been filed to legalize physician assisted suicide. The status of the bills are that they have been referred to the Joint Committee on Public Health. The bills already have a significant number of legislator supporters. Conventional wisdom says that not much will happen until after the budget is complete, however, everyone is encouraged to share your opposition with your legislators early and often!

An Act relative to end of life options

Please read the entire bill, which include many more sections than shown below. For instance, do you agree with Section 14(e): “(e) State regulations, documents and reports shall not refer to the practice of aid in dying under this chapter as “suicide” or “assisted suicide.””?

Excerpts from the bills

Section 2:

  • (a) A patient wishing to receive a prescription for medication under this chapter shall make an oral request to the patient’s attending physician. No less than 15 days after making the request the patient shall submit a written request to the patient’s attending physician in substantially the form set in section 4.
  • (b)A terminally ill patient may voluntarily make an oral request for aid in dying and a prescription for medication that the patient can choose to self-administer to bring about a peaceful death if the patient:
    • (1) is a capable adult;
    • (2) is a resident of Massachusetts; and
    • (3) has been determined by the patient’s attending physician to be terminally ill.
  • (c) A patient may provide a written request for aid in dying and a prescription for medication that the patient can choose to self-administer to bring about a peaceful death if the patient:
    • (1) has met the requirements in subsection (b);
    • (2) has been determined by a consulting physician to be terminally ill;
    • (3) has been approved by a licensed mental health professional; and
    • (4) has had no less than 15 days pass after making the oral request.
  • (d) A patient shall not qualify under this chapter if the patient has a guardian.
  • (e) A patient shall not qualify under this chapter solely because of age or disability.

Section 3.

  • (a) A valid written request must be witnessed by at least two individuals who, in the presence of the patient, attest that to the best of their knowledge and belief that patient is:
    • (1) personally known to the witnesses or has provided proof of identity;
    • (2) acting voluntarily; and
    • (3) not being coerced to sign the request.
  • (b) At least one of the witnesses shall be an individual who is not:
    • (1) a relative of the patient by blood, marriage, or adoption;
    • (2) an individual who at the time the request is signed would be entitled to any portion of the estate of the qualified patient upon death under any will or by operation of law;
    • (3) financially responsible for the medical care of the patient; or
    • (4) an owner, operator, or employee of a health care facility where the qualified patient is receiving medical treatment or is a resident.
  • (d) The patient’s attending physician at the time the request is signed shall not serve as a witness.
  • (e) If the patient is a patient in a long-term care facility at the time the written request is made, one of the witnesses shall be an individual designated by the facility.


I,. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . , am an adult of sound mind and a resident of the State of Massachusetts. I am suffering from . . . . . . . . . . . . . . , which my attending physician has determined is a terminal illness or condition which can reasonably be expected to cause death within 6 months. This diagnosis has been medically confirmed as required by law.

I have been fully informed of my diagnosis, prognosis, the nature of the aid in dying medication to be prescribed and potential associated risks, the expected result, and the feasible alternatives and additional treatment opportunities, including comfort care, hospice care, and pain control.

I request that my attending physician prescribe aid in dying medication that will end my life in a peaceful manner if I choose to take it, and I authorize my attending physician to contact any pharmacist to fill the prescription.

I understand that I have the right to rescind this request at any time. I understand the full import of this request and I expect to die if I take the aid in dying medication to be prescribed. I further understand that although most deaths occur within three hours, my death may take longer and my physician has counseled me about this possibility. I make this request voluntarily, without reservation, and without being coerced, and I accept full responsibility for my actions.

MA News News

Telegram and Gazette – Letter: State legislators should reject assisted suicide bill

Nurses reject assisted suicide bill

Telegram & Gazette

March 25, 2021

As registered nurses, we urge state legislators to look at the facts and reject Massachusetts assisted suicide bill.

Despite what the authors of a recent letter to the editor claim, uncontrollable pain does not even make it into the top five reasons that people choose assisted suicide. Based on data from Oregon, the state where assisted suicide has been legal the longest, the reasons that people choose assisted suicide include: decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable, loss of autonomy and loss of dignity. These serious concerns are all existential or disability-related that ought to be treated with appropriate care, not death.

The medical community is also resoundingly opposed to the practice of assisted suicide. The American Medical Association reaffirmed its opposition to assisted suicide because, “Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.” The World Medical Association is also opposed to assisted suicide. As medical professionals, our role is to heal, not to hasten death.

Assisted suicide is a dangerous public policy that targets the most vulnerable in society: the terminally ill, people with disabilities, and the elderly. The so-called “safeguards” in assisted suicide laws are ineffective. Having surpassed 500,000 deaths from COVID-19, it’s shocking that our legislature is considering institutionalizing premature death now. Instead of working to make death more accessible, we strongly urge our state legislators to expand access to quality medical care and treatment options.

Sandra A. Kucharski, MS RN, Worcester

Kathleen M. Lake, RN, West Boylston

Carol E. Johnston RN (ret), Worcester

Diane M. Smith RN (ret), Oakham

MA News News

Opinion in the Telegram and Gazette

Opinion: Assisted suicide cannot be regulated, ripe for abuse and coercion

November 18 by William Almeyda Jr. (senior pastor of the New Life Worship Center in Worcester) and his wife, Elise Almeyda

“Any moral society has a duty and a responsibility to protect and defend the vulnerable and the marginalized. But the assisted suicide legislation some Massachusetts lawmakers are considering is a dangerous public policy that threatens the most vulnerable in society: the elderly, people with disabilities, and the terminally ill.  

Now in the midst of a global pandemic, the focus of legislators should be on ensuring that quality medical care is available to every Massachusetts’ resident, rather than making death more accessible. Assisted suicide cannot be regulated, is ripe for abuse and coercion, fails to address patients’ existential concerns, and is overwhelmingly opposed by the medical community. I urge our Massachusetts’ legislators to consider the deadly threat that legalizing assisted suicide would impose on our most vulnerable residents and to reject this policy”…. Read the whole article in the Telegram and Gazette.

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Opposition Letter

OPINION: Letter to the Editor: Assisted suicide is flawed

Published in the Waltham Wicked Local on October 30, 2020 by Adrianna Cambara, senior pastor for Ministerio Abba Padre Internacional Inc. in Waltham. You can read the letter below at

“As pastors, we see firsthand the issues that the most vulnerable members of our society face. I see what happens when one life is deemed more valuable than another and that is exactly why we are opposed to legalizing assisted suicide in Massachusetts. Assisted suicide unfairly targets the most vulnerable: the terminally ill, people with disabilities and the elderly. We urge legislators to reject this dangerous policy and instead work to provide better care and treatment for those most in need.

Despite often cited claims of safety, assisted suicide laws are incredibly difficult to regulate. The so-called “safeguards” built into these laws are lacking at best. The truth is, assisted suicide laws open the door to abuse, harm and coercion against the most vulnerable in society. According to a study published by the National Council on Disability detailing the effects of assisted suicide laws on the disability community, the so-called “safeguards” are “ineffective and often fail to protect patients.” It is simply too risky to legalize assisted suicide when the well-being and safety of all Massachusetts’ residents cannot be guaranteed.

Assisted suicide also fails to address the underlying reasons why people choose assisted suicide in the first place. In Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal the longest, data shows that pain/suffering do not make it into the top five reasons that people choose assisted suicide. Rather, the top five reasons people choose assisted suicide are existential or disability-related in nature including: being less able to engage in enjoyable activities, loss of autonomy, loss of dignity, being a burden on family/friends and losing control of bodily functions. These concerns are serious and deserve to be addressed with proper treatment and counseling, not an early death.

Assisted suicide is a dangerous policy that is impossible to regulate and unfairly targets the most vulnerable in society. We urge legislators to reject this inherently flawed policy and instead support laws that ensure everyone is given the quality medical care and treatment that they deserve.”