If all goes according to plan, by the time this Newsletter reaches you I will have spent the better part of Tuesday, June 25 in Gardiner Auditorium in the State House, waiting to offer testimony to the Joint Public Health Committee. The focus of my testimony will be a piece of legislation being considered by the committee “An Act Relative to End of Life Options” (S. 1208 / H. 1926). Modeled on the Oregon law, this bill would give dying Massachusetts residents with a terminal illness more freedom, control, and peace of mind at the end of their lives.
I’ve been down this road before, having twice testified before this committee in the past five years, as a volunteer for Compassion & Choices, the nation’s oldest and largest non-profit organization advocating for a range of end-of-life options. Since the last time I testified, in 2017, Hawaii, the District of Columbia and New Jersey (starting August 1st) have authorized medical aid in dying, joining Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California and Colorado. It is my fervent hope that Massachusetts will join this growing list.
Below is the testimony I will have presented at the State House. If you believe, as I do, that competent adults facing a terminal illness should be able to end their intolerable suffering, within the guidelines of the proposed law, than I encourage you to contact your state senator and representative and make your view known now. Urge their support for “The End of Life Options Act”. With more support for this legislation than ever before, from so many quarters, this may be its time.
Rabbi Elias Lieberman
Testimony regarding S. 1208 / H. 1926
“An Act Relative to End of Life Options”
Offered before the Joint Public Health Committee
June 25, 2019
I want to thank the Committee and its Co-Chairs, for this opportunity to offer testimony in support of “The End of Life Options Act”.
My name is Elias Lieberman and I serve as rabbi of Falmouth Jewish Congregation on Cape Cod, a position I have held for the past twenty-nine years. I am grateful for the opportunity to offer testimony today I have, in the past, served as a hospice chaplain and I bring to this moment decades of experience serving the needs of families as they contend with end of life issues. I have been witness to good deaths and bad deaths; I have seen members of my community pass from life serenely and I have watched them endure suffering that none of us would wish for ourselves or anyone we love.
In Jewish tradition, a frequently heard toast is “L’chayim”, a Hebrew expression that means “To life”. In truth, mine is a faith tradition that deems precious the gift of life we are granted. But mine is also a tradition that rejects the notion that there is anything inherently redemptive about suffering.
The wisdom found in the Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “there is a time to be born and a time to die.” I have come to believe that there is, sometimes, a time for an individual to make the informed decision to bring his/her life to an end with compassionate support and with the safeguards incorporated into this proposed legislation.
As a person of faith and as someone who chose a profession in which I am expected to offer guidance and support to those facing the ultimate in existential questions, I believe firmly that every individual should be afforded the right to end life when suffering renders living intolerable.
I believe that life must be infused with meaning and purpose and when it is no longer possible for us to attain either, because of the suffering induced by illness, a compassionate alternative must be available to us, one that lies at the core of this proposed legislation.
I do not presume to speak for all Jews or for Judaism although polls consistently show strong support among Jews for medical aid in dying; I do presume to offer my experience and my convictions gained over the course of my career ministering to the dying and to their loved ones. I urge you to grant the precious gift of autonomy to those whose suffering will be unendurable and for whom a release from a life of suffering would be the greatest of blessings.