Massachusetts is the latest battleground over euthanasia with an initiative on the ballot in November to adopt a statute similar to those in Oregon and Washington, which allow physicians to prescribe suicide for their patients.
As in Oregon and Washington, the Massachusetts proposal states assisted suicide would be legal for residents of the state in cases where a doctor has determined the patient has less than six months to live. However, the examples of the two Western states have shown that those safeguards do not work.
Robin Loughman, R.N., Chairwoman of the Massachusetts Alliance Against Doctor-Prescribed Suicide (MAADPS), said in a press release, “a prognosis of six months to live is inexact at best. This question gives people the means to commit suicide. The doctor has no obligation to be sure the person is competent, not depressed, or not under pressure. The doctor is required to falsify the death certificate by stating the cause of death to be the “underlying condition” rather than the suicide that occurred.”
“We’re confident … that we’ll be successful in November,” said Stephen Crawford, communications director of the pro-assisted suicide “Dignity 2012” campaign. Media coverage of the debate has been decidedly in favor of the proposal. According to Loughman, the press has used the word “medication,” which should cure, instead of the descriptive, “lethal dose.”
In June, a poll by the Western New England University Polling Institute found sixty percent of Bay State voters in favor of the ballot measure. However, polling on ballot questions are not as straightforward as polling on candidates running for office, a point also made by the director of the Polling Institute at Western New England University.
“Polling on ballot questions is tricky because responses can be highly sensitive to question wording,” said Tim Vercellotti, associate professor of political science and director of the Polling Institute at Western New England University. “The actual questions that the voters see on the ballot tend to be longer and more complicated. Our questions attempt to get to the essence of each issue.”
The survey asked voters whether they supported or opposed “allowing people who are dying to legally obtain medication that they could use to end their lives,” according to Vercellotti.
If presented with the reality of legalized assisted suicide, it remains to be seen whether voters would go along with the proposal. According to the Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics at the National Right to Life Committee, the so-called safeguards do not work. In addition, the legalization of assisted suicide brings grave implications for the medical field by transforming doctors from healers into killers.
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Following legalization in Oregon, a woman was told that her health plan would not cover the cancer treatment she needed but rather would cover the cost of her suicide. And the case was not an isolated incident. Assisted suicide legalization in Oregon has put patients at risk by putting financial pressure on physicians to prescribe suicide. “It’s chilling when you think about it,” said Dr. William Toffler, a professor of family medicine at Oregon Health & Science University. “It absolutely conveys to the patient that continued living isn’t worthwhile.”