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Death with Dignity Introduced in the Massachusetts State House

Massachusetts State HouseEvery state has its own process for passing laws. Among those which allow voters to directly debate and decide on state law through the ballot initiative process, there's even more variability in how an initiative ends up in front of the voters in a general election. There are indirect initiatives which must first go through a state legislature and direct initiatives which go from signature gathering to the ballot. Some states have a referendum process where a state legislature can place a proposed piece of legislation in front of the voters, and others allow initiatives only for constitutional amendments.

The road to the November 2012 ballot in Massachusetts is a particularly winding one, and I checked in with Dignity 2012 to learn more about where they're at in the process and what challenges are ahead. I learned Massachusetts has an indirect initiative process, so after gathering the requisite number of signatures, the initiative goes to the Massachusetts legislature.

Dignity 2012 cleared the biggest hurdle in the process at the end of 2011, gathering 84,713 signatures, of which 79,626 were qualified and certified. All initiatives in the Commonwealth originate in the Massachusetts House of Representatives for their journey through the State House. The initiative was introduced as H.3884 and assigned to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

Over the next few months, legislators will discuss the initiative and consider one of the following steps:

  • The General Court can pass the initiative as it's written. (This rarely happens.)
  • The Judiciary Committee can make a formal recommendation of Support, Do Not Support, or Neutral.
  • The Legislature can put its own version of the initiative on the ballot. (Again, this is rare.)

If the legislature doesn't pass the initiative as it's written, the next step for Dignity 2012 will be another phase of signature gathering in the beginning of May. This next signature gathering phase would be smaller than the one which took place in the fall; the campaign would need to collect 11,485 qualified voter signatures between the beginning of May and July 3rd to be considered for the November ballot. Voters who signed the petition during the first signature gathering phase cannot sign the second petition.

To learn more about Massachusetts' proposed Death with Dignity Act, listen to Dignity 2012's spokesperson, Steve Crawford on New England Public Radio, and check out We'll also keep you up-to-date on developments in Massachusetts and other states through our blog. Stay tuned!

Posted on January 20, 2012 in Massachusetts, New England


  • Posted by Patricia W. Moore on Sunday, February 12 at 12:55 p.m.

    Please keep me u to date with this initiative. I would be happy to help with signatures in May-July if that is necessary.


    Paddy Moore

  • Posted by Melissa Barber on Tuesday, February 28 at 02:10 p.m.

    Hi Paddy!

    I just sent you an email as well letting you know I passed along your information to the folks at Dignity 2012. I also wanted to let you and everyone else here know, you can also find out more about the effort in Massachusetts directly from the Dignity 2012 website here:

    Melissa Barber
    Electronic Communications Specialist
    Death with Dignity National Center

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