On December 19 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) declined to legalize Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD).
In states that allow MAiD, a terminally ill person can make an informed choice to end their suffering using a prescription for lethal drugs. Ten states and the District of Columbia allow MAiD. Massachusetts will not become the eleventh state, at least not for now. In a 64-page opinion, the state’s highest court held that the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights does not include a right to MAiD and that doctors who help terminally ill patients end their lives may be guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
This is a defeat for retired physician Roger Kligler and his doctor Alan Steinbach. Kligler has terminal, metastatic prostate cancer and Steinbach is willing to help him end his life. In 2016, Kligler filed a lawsuit asking the court to declare that Steinbach could not be charged criminally if he were to help Kligler end his life.
Terminology in the debate around MAiD reflects value judgments. The Massachusetts court decision uses the term "physician-assisted suicide" rather than MAiD. The term “physician-assisted suicide” conflates two very different types of death. The suicide of a physically healthy person facing mental health challenges is not the same as the death of a person facing a diagnosis that will end in certain death who chooses to assert autonomy over when and how they will die. It should be treated differently under the law.
In declining to find a constitutional right to MAiD, the SJC also explicitly tossed the issue of MAiD to the Massachusetts state legislature, where a bill that would legalize MAiD has been pending for over a year.
MAID involves difficult moral questions and people of goodwill have strongly different views about whether it is ever right to let a person take his or her own life. Let’s talk about dying.