John Kelly’s Testimony Before the Rhode Island Health Education and Welfare Committee

March 23, 2016

Chairperson McNamara, Members of the Committee:

I am the New England regional director for Not Dead Yet, the leading disability rights group against assisted suicide. I am also the director of Second Thoughts Massachusetts. Our name from the finding that the more people learn about assisted suicide, the more they oppose it.

The overwhelming problem with this bill and all bills like it is that completely innocent people will lose their lives, through mistakes and abuse, which can never be undone.

That’s why every major national disability rights organization that has taken a stand on assisted suicide has come out against it.

My written testimony details the many reasons for our opposition. Here I talk about how in the context of assisted suicide, “choice” is an illusion.

We cannot speak about choice when so many people are misdiagnosed as terminal. Every year, thousands of people “graduate” from hospice. Assisted suicide turns what would be the best outcome – outliving your so-called terminal diagnosis – into state-sponsored tragedy. So if you receive your prescribed overdose from a doctor and their colleague after they totally misdiagnose you, and then you take your own life, no one will ever know.

John Norton of Florence, Mass. testified that when he was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 19, he would have definitely used assisted suicide if it was available. Luckily it wasn’t, his disease process stopped, and 60 years later he’s urging people to reject these bills.

Everyone knows about someone who was mistakenly diagnosed as terminal. Does anyone in this room really believe that doctors are infallible?

And we cannot speak of choice —

When one out of every 10 elders in Rhode Island is estimated to be abused every year, almost always by adult children and caregivers.


When someone in line to inherit your estate can help sign you up, pick up the prescription, and then take action against you with no questions asked.

When depressed people with a serious illness who mistakenly think that people will be better off without them get told that “feeling like a burden” is a rational reason to kill yourself.

When there is no funded homecare, so families worried about the inheritance feel pressure to “choose” assisted suicide.

When the only other choice is a nursing home.

When people with disabilities are already told to our face that we would be better off dead.

I was recently talking to a reporter about how prescribing Oregon doctors report that people’s top end of life concerns are all about mental distress about disability.  Later in the conversation, they proved my point by saying, “I know that for me I would want it if I ended up paralyzed from the neck down or with ALS and they wanted to put a tube in me.”

I am paralyzed from the neck down, and I am sick of being told by the media, the medical system, pop culture, and sometimes from our own families that people would rather be dead that like us.

Invidious quality-of-life judgments have no place in state policy. Please reject this bill and the discrimination it promotes.

Thank you.