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Metro

Group supporting ‘aid in dying’ bill launches advocacy push

A national advocacy group has launched a wave of telephone calls in Massachusetts to encourage support of a bill that would allow certain terminally ill patients in this state to obtain a prescription to end their own lives.

Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit group that advocates for “aid in dying” across the country, said it has volunteers and a calling service reaching out to potential supporters in the state asking them to press their lawmakers on the issue. A spokeswoman said the group is also running targeted ads about the issue online and in print.

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As part of the push, about two dozen people gathered in the State House on Wednesday morning to lobby lawmakers to move the bill forward.

Anne Singer, the campaign’s communications manager, declined to specify how much it was spending on the effort, but said in an e-mail that “right now there is a definite bump in spending [in Massachusetts] to coincide with the legislative session.”

The effort comes after voters, in November 2012, rejectedan initiative that would have allowed doctors licensed in Massachusetts to “to prescribe medication, at a terminally ill patient’s request, to end that patient’s life.” The referendum lost by 2 points.

While polling showed majority support for the question two months before voters cast their ballots, opponents of the measure significantly outspent supporters and ended up prevailing. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, along with other religious groups, were among the most vocal opponents of the question.

Marie Manis, Massachusetts campaign manager for Compassion & Choices, said public opinion had changed on the issue since then, citing a recent poll the group had commissioned. She said she hoped to telegraph that support to powerbrokers on Beacon Hill.

“I’m absolutely hopeful they’ll move this bill out of committee,” she said.

State Representative Lou Kafka, a Stoughton Democrat who is the sponsor of legislation, said on Tuesday this was the third session in which he had introduced the bill. It has always languished, never moving out of committee, he said.

While he struck an optimistic note, he was not particularly bullish on the effort.

“I still hope that there’s a chance,” he said. “But being an election year I can understand [why] maybe the committee would want to study it some more.”

James Driscoll, the executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, which represents the four dioceses in the state, pushed back against the group’s effort.

“The bishops’ view is that this issue has been fully debated just 15 months ago and the voters spoke and the voters voted down physician-assisted suicide,” he said.

Driscoll added that the push ought to be for making Massachusetts a leader in hospice and palliative care, rather than “physician-assisted suicide.”

In May 2013, Vermont became the fourth state to allow certain terminally ill patients to obtain a prescription to end their lives, following Oregon, Washington, and Montana.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.
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