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An Interview with Massachusetts Dignity 2012

Massachusetts State House by notafish on Flickr
Massachusetts State House by notafish on Flickr

There have been a number of recent developments in the Death with Dignity movement. When I was in Massachusetts last week, I took a moment to sit down and chat with Michael Clarke, the Campaign Director at Dignity 2012, to get the latest news on their efforts. Read more about the work they're doing and what you can do to help citizens of a third state learn more about important end-of-life options proposed in the Death with Dignity Act initiative.

Peg Sandeen from Death with Dignity National Center: What's the goal of Dignity 2012?

Dignity 2012: Dignity 2012 is working to pass a Death with Dignity law, similar to the laws in Oregon and Washington. We're focused on a ballot initiative effort to present the question to the voters on the November ballot. As you know, this is the same process which was used to pass the laws in Oregon in 1994 and Washington in 2008.

PS: How has the reception been so far?

Dignity 2012: We've received an overwhelmingly positive response from people across Massachusetts who believe terminally ill patients deserve greater control over their end-of-life care. Hundreds of volunteers and donors have signed up to help with the effort. These decisions are deeply intimate and personal, and belong in the hands of individuals, not the government.

The proposed initiative gathered more than 84,000 signatures from voters for the initial qualification phase for which we only needed about 69,000 to move forward. After achieving that first step, the initiative was then put before the State Legislature for consideration and received a hearing. The next step in this process started yesterday when we filed the documents to request the petitions to put Dignity on the ballot.

PS: What's the next step?

Dignity 2012: The state constitution requires the petition to travel through the legislature where it is today. They had until May 1st to act on the petition but that didn't happen. Now the petition has entered its next phase when we'll need to collect about 20,000 more signatures by the end of June to put the question on the ballot in November.

PS: You mentioned more than 84,000 voters signed the petition. Why do you need to collect more signatures?

Dignity 2012: Massachusetts has two rounds of required petition collection: one in the fall to qualify the petition to be delivered to the Legislature and the second in the spring to place the initiative on the ballot as a question.

PS:How much time do you have to gather signatures? When is the deadline?

Dignity 2012: It's a very short timeline. We'll have fewer than 6 weeks to collect 20,000 signatures. The deadline to file all of the signatures is June 20.

PS:What's the process for collecting signatures?

Dignity 2012: The process is complicated. Petitions must be hand signed by voters and a different petition sheet must be used for each town. So, people who live in different towns have to sign different sheets. Each of those sheets will have to filed with the local town Clerk's office. The Town Clerk will check every signature and disqualify anyone who isn't registered to vote in that town. The petitions then have to be picked up by the campaign and filed with the Secretary of State. Consider the state has 351 towns and cities, this requires a lot of work.

Collecting the signatures takes a lot more than a couple hundred people standing on street corners. We have to mail out thousands of petition sheets, provide return postage, get the petitions to the 351 Clerks, pick up the petitions, and file them with the Secretary of State, all in just 39 days. Because volunteers only have so much time to give over a 6 week period, we also have to hire workers to help collect signatures. All together, we estimate this process will cost somewhere between $85,000 and $100,000.

PS: How can people help?

Dignity 2012: Please visit our site,, for details. There are several ways people from all over the US can help, and here is how you can make the biggest difference:

  1. Donate - Without generous gifts from people who want to see Death with Dignity laws enacted, we wouldn't even be able to mail out a single petition.
  2. Volunteer - If you live in Massachusetts or know someone who does please help Dignity 2012 with this huge signature-gathering stage. After you make a donation (hey it's going to cost us money to get you the supplies) dedicate time to collect signatures from your family, friends, and coworkers.

Thank you so much, Michael, for helping our readers learn so much about everything Dignity 2012 is doing to allow Bay Staters the possibility to decide what's best for them in their final days.

Posted on May 2, 2012 in Massachusetts, New England, Press Room


Posted by Kathy Paris (not verified) on May 4, 2012 at 12:05 p.m.

I want to donate but the form requires my phone # and email address. They do not appear to be legally required in Mass. and I will not give them. Donation won't go through. Shame.

Posted by Ruth V. Elcan (not verified) on May 4, 2012 at 03:41 p.m.

I'm making a donation now and I'd like to collect signatures from friends, but I'll be out of the country for most of May. If I can help in June, my contact info is [removed by site editor].

Posted by Mike Pavone (not verified) on May 4, 2012 at 04:29 p.m.

Please send me petitions, I have helped in the past, and have donated already. Thanks.

Contact me at
[Removed by site editor.]

Posted by Vera Tucker (not verified) on May 6, 2012 at 08:23 p.m.

I wish you all the best in getting this legislation passed in Massachusetts. I hope SC won't be far behind.

Posted by Melissa Barber on May 8, 2012 at 03:52 p.m.

Thank you all, for your support of Dignity 2012's efforts!

Vera, as more and more states enact Death with Dignity Acts other states which have been resistant in the past will finally respect the will of the people.

Ruth and Mike, I passed along your contact information to Michael at Dignity 2012 before removing it from your comments above.

I'm sorry you're experiencing difficulty with the online donation form, Kathy. The email address and phone number are set as required fields by the entity which processes online donations. Perhaps we can chat via email ( or phone (503-228-4415)? I won't share your email address or phone number without your express permission.

Melissa Barber
Director of Digital Communications
Death with Dignity National Center

Posted by Sarah (not verified) on May 8, 2012 at 07:12 p.m.

Two things concern me: Most bills and laws have little hidden items here and there, which use an emotional subject to "trojan horse" other objectives. What *exactly* does this law aim to do, item-for-item? Also: How about an expectation for accountability? When does one's pride get labeled with the word "dignity" to make it okay to care about nobody, but numero uno? I know someone who is dying of something, but refuses to say anything. If he did, he could save someone else's life, but he doesn't care about anybody but himself....and yet it's times like these when we like to massage something with words like "dignity", when all we're doing is lying because the real word is selfishness.

Posted by Melissa Barber on May 11, 2012 at 03:00 p.m.

Thank you for sharing your opinion, Sarah. You can read the full text of the proposed law on Dignity 2012's website ( and see there is no hidden agenda. The ballot measure is written in plain English, is easy to understand, and it's only aim is simply to give terminally ill people one more end-of-life option. The process is voluntary for everyone involved—patient, physician, pharmacist, health care facility.

The Massachusetts ballot initiative is very similar to Oregon's Death with Dignity Act. Through 14 years of state-issued reports, it's obvious Oregon's law is seldom used, but provides a safe and humane option for all those facing their end-of-life. You can read more about the state-issued reports in this blog post:

I'm unsure what you mean by your second point.

Melissa Barber
Director of Digital Communications
Death with Dignity National Center

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