NCD Testimony to MA Legislature on Assisted Suicide

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ORAL TESTIMONY 

Anne Sommers McIntosh 

Executive Director, National Council on Disability 

Hearing of the Joint Committee on Public Health, 

Massachusetts Legislature 

on bills relating to End of Life Options: 

H2381/S1384, O’Day and Mahoney/Comerford, An Act relative end of life options 

October 1, 2021 

(As delivered)

Chairs Comerford and Decker and Vice Chairs Moran and Murray, thank you for the opportunity to testify at this briefing.  

I’m Anne Sommers McIntosh, Executive Director of the National Council on Disability (NCD) – a federal advisory agency to the President and the U.S. Congress that since 1997 has advised federal and state policymakers of the dangers of legalizing assisted suicide on disability rights grounds. In 2019, NCD released new research on the topic in The Danger of Assisted Suicide Laws, which advises states not to legalize any form of assisted suicide or active euthanasia. My remarks today come directly from that report.  

NCD is comprised of presidentially and congressionally appointed Council Members who are the federal voice for the over 61 million Americans with disabilities across the country. Congress charged us with promoting policies, programs, practices, and procedures that guarantee equal opportunity for people with disabilities and empowering people with disabilities to achieve the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act – a law that we first recommended and drafted ourselves.  

Over 20 years after our 1997 report on assisted suicide, we again recommended against legalization of assisted suicide and urged states and the Federal Government to ensure that people with disabilities have a comprehensive system of assisted services and supports; and that medical providers receive training in disability competency and disability-risk factors for suicide.

Although not all people with disabilities are terminal, nearly all individuals who are terminal are people with disabilities, and NCD has a long history of shining a light on explicit and implicit bias against people with disabilities, particularly in the healthcare system.

For our 2019 report, we examined information from 20 years of annual reports from Oregon’s experience with their law and found many disturbing trends. Of note, the top five reasons doctors give for their patients’ assisted suicide requests are not pain or fear of future pain—that alone is noteworthy—but psychological issues that are all-too-familiar to the disability community: “loss of autonomy” (95.5 percent), “less able to engage in activities” (94.6 percent), “loss of dignity” (87.4 percent), “losing control of bodily functions” (56.5 percent), and “burden on others” (51.9 percent). 

These “reasons” are not directly gathered from the individuals themselves but are gathered from proxies (their doctors) after assisted suicides have already occurred, which means there is no way of validating the reports, which could be a source of error. The mere fact that the reporting forms include these particular check boxes as options to express one’s reasons means that they were viewed as acceptable from the beginning of the laws’ implementation, and yet they are all uninformed expressions of common disability-related experiences. By rendering them acceptable explanations for requesting assistance in one’s suicide, these laws are communicating dangerous, discrimination-filled messages to people with disabilities and the public that common disability experiences, like requiring assistance with personal care activities, are understandable and acceptable grounds for ending one’s life.

NCD’s research on assisted suicide reveals extensive significant and dangerous policy and procedural flaws in existing and proposed laws, and I implore you to read our report in full to be aware of all the dangers of efforts to legalize assisted suicide to people with disabilities.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.