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Group plans to appeal Mass. judge’s decision that rejected a right to medically-assisted death

Dr. Roger Kligler, a Cape Cod physician who is suffering from metastatic prostate cancer,  is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit arguing that patients should be allowed to obtain lethal doses of medication from their doctors and choose when they die in order to avoid needless suffering.
Dr. Roger Kligler, a Cape Cod physician who is suffering from metastatic prostate cancer, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit arguing that patients should be allowed to obtain lethal doses of medication from their doctors and choose when they die in order to avoid needless suffering.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

An advocacy group pushing to legalize medically-assisted suicide in Massachusetts said Monday that it will appeal a recent court decision, which said patients do not have a right to end their lives with the help of their doctors.

Compassion & Choices, which advocates for better end-of-life care options, had filed suit in 2016, arguing that patients should be allowed to obtain lethal doses of medication from their doctors and choose when they die in order to avoid needless suffering.

But in a Dec. 31 decision, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Mary K. Ames said the legality of the practice — sometimes referred to as medical aid in dying, or MAID — is not for courts to decide.

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“The Legislature, not the Court, is ideally positioned to weigh these arguments and determine whether, and if so, under what restrictions, MAID should be legally authorized,” Ames wrote.

A spokesman for Compassion & Choices said on Monday that the group intends to appeal, adding that the nonprofit is “researching our options” about where to file its next legal challenge.

“This setback is disheartening, but we will continue this legal battle,” Dr. Roger Kligler, a Cape Cod physician who is suffering from metastatic prostate cancer and is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in a statement.

“As a physician who has treated numerous terminally ill adults, I know many of them would want medical aid in dying as an option to peacefully end their suffering,” he said. “I do not know if I would use this option, but I want it for myself if my suffering becomes intolerable at the end of my life.”

Over the phone on Monday, Kligler said he did not think the judge understood “all the issues,” calling the decision a mistake.

“There are a lot of people who are dying with unnecessary suffering,” he said.

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Meanwhile, Second Thoughts Massachusetts, a group that opposes medical aid in dying, praised the judge’s decision. That organization said it was pleased that the ruling found that any state doctor who prescribes a lethal dosage of drugs could be subject to prosecution for involuntary manslaughter.

“Disability rights advocates will continue to press the legislature that assisted suicide is just too dangerous,” John B. Kelly, Second Thoughts director, said in a statement.

Kelly said the state Legislature considered an end-of-life health bill last year and added that the proposal is still in committee.

But Compassion & Choices has been looking to the courts to hasten the adoption of a practice its members believe will improve the experiences of terminally ill patients and their families.

In addition to Kligler, the lawsuit also has as a plaintiff Dr. Alan Steinbach of Cape Cod, who says he should be allowed to inform terminally ill patients about medical aid in dying and prescribe lethal doses of medication to those who want it. Kligler is not Steinbach’s patient.

The suit was filed against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe.

Though Judge Ames rejected the group’s argument that patients have a right to medical aid in dying, she did rule that physicians are free to advise terminally ill patients about a medical aid in dying option in the 10 US jurisdictions where it is allowed.

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Kevin Díaz, chief legal advocacy officer and general counsel for Compassion & Choices, said in a statement of the judge’s decision, “It’s not the win we had hoped for, but it’s a step in the right direction to ensure that terminally ill adults can make fully informed decisions.”


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@
globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @Danny McDonald.