New England Regional Director, Not Dead Yet


John Kelly

John B. Kelly is the New England Regional Director of Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights groups which views assisted suicide as deadly discrimination against disabled people.   During a legalization campaign in Massachusetts in 2012, he founded and continues to direct Second Thoughts MA:  Disability Rights Advocates Against Assisted Suicide. 

Since then, John has become a national leader in secular opposition to legalization. He has debated Dr. Marcia Angell, prominent bioethicist Thaddeus Pope, and Brittany Maynard’s widower Dan Diaz. In 1997, he published a widely noted opinion piece in the Boston Globe finding the messages of Jack Kevorkian and Christopher Reeve as equally dismal. His work has been featured in outlets such as the Quincy Sun, Boston Globe, Worcester Telegram, CNN’s “United Shades Of America,” and elsewhere. John has a Masters degree in Sociology from Brandeis.

Mayor Thomas Menino was so impressed by his access advocacy that he declared July 26th, 2012, “John B. Kelly Day” in the city of Boston.


Ever since a spinal injury in 1984 left me “paralyzed from the neck down,” I have been confronted by suggestions of death and suicide. People like my father who wished I had died in my accident, the people who said they’d rather be dead than like me, the presentation of suicide as the noble response to my disability in movies like “Whose Life Is It Anyway?”

In the few years after my injury, I joked about suicide and made a plan. Bowel and bladder incontinence especially would bring on a death wish. These same issues came to fuel the assisted suicide movement. Assisted suicide programs blur the difference between disability and imminent terminality. The precipitating concerns are related to dependence on others, feeling like a burden, and incontinence.  Right now in Canada, I am eligible.

In graduate school, I learned about the “right to die” cases of the 1980s and 90s – people with similar disabilities to me who were put on the fast track to death while being denied the resources to live. I felt a connection to Larry McAfee, who was court-approved for suicide simply because of his disability. McAfee renounced his decision when given independent living opportunities.

And then came Kevorkian, who with much social approval was killing people with disabilities and calling them terminally ill. I joined Not Dead Yet and saw that organ transplant professionals wanted authorization to approach newly spinal cord injured people to encourage them to surrender their organs so that recipients could have a higher quality of life.

In 2018, when I had necrotizing pneumonia and there were questions about getting off a respirator and continuing to live independently, the doctor asked my brothers about my “quality-of-life.” This is a phrase that leads to disabled people’s death.

I sometimes get depressed and am terrified of a treating doctor supporting my suicide or death.

John Kelly

How do you pronounce your name?

John (J like justice and ohn like, ‘Turn the light on.’) Kelly (Ke like kept and lly like Bruce Lee). 

Scroll to Top