BOSTON, SHNS -- With about two months of a lame duck session remaining for the Legislature, supporters said Monday that this may be their best chance yet to pass legislation that would allow terminally-ill patients to get a prescription for a substance that would end their lives.

In late May, bills (H 4782/S 2745) that would legalize medical aid in dying -- sometimes referred to as doctor-assisted suicide or death with dignity -- filed by Rep. Louis Kafka and Sen. Will Brownsberger were redrafted and reported out favorably by the Committee on Public Health. The committee said the House and Senate versions were each redrafted with the same language and referred back to their respective chambers. The legislation is now before the Committee on Health Care Financing with a deadline of Dec. 31 for that panel to act.

"The opportunity to talk to you and to encourage everybody to contact their own legislators, whether it be in the House or the Senate, and ask them to work towards getting this bill passed into law and hopefully signed by the governor is important to me as I end my career," Kafka, who did not seek reelection this year after serving in the House for nearly 30 years, said during the virtual rally of nearly 200 people. "I will always be involved with this bill and should we not have the opportunity to get it passed this session, I certainly am committed to working with everybody in the next session to get the bill on the governor's desk relatively quickly during that session."

Under the bill, the patient must have a terminal illness reasonably judged to result in death in six months and must make the request themselves, first orally and again in writing at least 15 days later. The patient must also have two people, including one non-relative who does not work for the health care facility involved, witness the written request. The bill also requires patients to meet with a counselor to determine if they are suffering from psychiatric or psychological conditions that may affect their judgment.

"I desperately want to live, but I'm dying," Gloucester resident Lee Marshall, a retired nurse who has metastatic breast cancer, said. "Massachusetts' medical aid-in-dying bill is my hope for a peaceful death. I'm terrified of lingering pain. I am imploring Massachusetts lawmakers to listen to their terminally ill constituents, to their constituents who have seen a loved one die needlessly painful deaths, full of suffering, and to have the compassion to pass the End of Life Options Act."

Massachusetts voters spoke directly to the issue in 2012, when they rejected a ballot question similar to the bill filed by Kafka and Brownsberger with 51 percent opposed and 49 percent in favor, a margin of 67,891 votes. Nine states have authorized some form of medical aid in dying: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, along with the District of Columbia.

Compassion & Choices, a national group that supports giving terminally-ill people a sanctioned option for ending their lives, pointed to poll results published as part of the Boston Globe's recent Spotlight series on end-of-life issues that showed that just shy of 70 percent of respondents in Massachusetts think terminally-ill people should be able to end their lives with the assistance of a doctor.

But Not Dead Yet, a group that opposes the policy and advocates on behalf of people with disabilities, points to national polling conducted by Pew Research Center that showed 49 percent of Americans disapprove of medically-prescribed fatal doses while 47 percent approve.

When the legislation got out of the Public Health Committee with a favorable report earlier this year, it was the first time in at least five legislative sessions that bills dealing with aid-in-dying cleared the committee hurdle. Kafka, who has been behind the legislation for a decade, said he will soon talk to House Speaker Robert DeLeo's office about bringing the bill to the House floor sometime in December.

"In the House, we're starting a budget debate tomorrow and it will last until the end of the week. The Senate, I think, is scheduled to do the budget next week and then the conference committee the week after, so that gets us pretty much to Thanksgiving," Kafka, who serves as a division chair in DeLeo's leadership structure, said. "And what happens after that is up for grabs."

-State House News Service

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