Massachusetts Supreme Court Rules Against Medically-Assisted Death
Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that medically-assisted death for patients with terminal illnesses is not protected under the state’s constitution.

The state’s highest court released the ruling on Monday in the conclusion to a lawsuit originally filed by Dr. Roger Kligler and another doctor in 2016 over fears of being prosecuted if he prescribed life-ending medication for terminal patients.

“Although we recognize the paramount importance and profound significance of all end-of-life decisions, after careful consideration, we conclude that the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights does not reach so far as to protect physician-assisted suicide,” the Supreme Judicial Court wrote in its decision.

“We conclude as well that the law of manslaughter may prohibit physician-assisted suicide, and does so, without offending constitutional protections,” it added.

Multiple attempts have also been made in the state’s legislature to legalize medically-assisted death in Massachusetts, but no laws have reached a vote.

The office of state Attorney General Maura Healey, which argued the case for the state, released a statement arguing that the legislature is the best place to provide guidance on the issue.

“Our office understands the complexities of end of life care,” the attorney general’s spokesperson, Jillian Fennimore, said in a statement. “We are pleased that the Court has affirmed our position that the Legislature is the most appropriate place to have a discussion about this important public policy issue. AG Healey has said she supports legislative action to allow medical aid in dying, provided it includes sufficient safeguards for both patients and providers.”

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Chris Schandevel, whose organization filed a friend-of-the-court brief in February in support of protecting the terminally ill and disabled, shared a statement celebrating the court’s ruling against medically-assisted death.

“Every human life—regardless of disability or illness—has immeasurable value, and the government must do all it can to protect life, especially for the most vulnerable who cannot advocate for themselves,” Schandevel said. “Every life is worth living. And we’re pleased the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the commonwealth’s long established legal tradition of protecting the dignity of every human life until natural death.”

In the U.S., several states have passed medically-assisted death laws, including California, Colorado, Hawaii, and Oregon. In Canada, medical assistance in dying has been legal since 2016.

The controversial Canadian medical issue added additional provisions in March 2021. The nation’s eligibility requirements currently include being 18 years old or older with decision-making capacity, having a “serious and incurable illness, disease, or disability (excluding a mental illness until March 17, 2023),” and being in an “advanced state of irreversible decline in capability,” among other stipulations.

As of December 2021, a total of 31,664 Canadians have received assisted deaths. “Of those, 224 who died last year were not terminally ill, taking advantage of last year’s amendment,” according to The New York Times.

In addition to Canada, 10 other countries currently allow some form of medically-assisted death, including Austria, Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and Switzerland, along with all six states of Australia.

The Daily Wire reported earlier this month about a disabled veteran in Canada who requested a wheelchair ramp for her home. Someone in Canada’s Veterans Affairs department reportedly responded to her request by offering to send her a kit that would help her to end her own life.

Christine Gauthier, a 52-year-old retired corporal who is a paraplegic, testified before Parliament, telling the House of Commons veterans affairs committee that a caseworker had offered in writing to send her a Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID) kit.

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