Massachusetts Ballot Prop Promoting Assisted Suicide Gets OK

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 7, 2011   |   5:54PM   |   Boston, MA

Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today the list of ballot proposals that will make their way on the 2012 ballot and one initiative would promote assisted suicide in the state.

All proposals now must be backed by the signatures of 68,911 states residents, which backers of the assisted suicide imitative must obtain by mid-November in order to move ahead to the next step. If they receive enough signatures, members of the state legislature can decide whether or not to pass any of them as legislation. Those that do not receive legislative approval must obtain another 11,485 signatures in order to qualify for the 2012 election.

The certification from Coakley’s office today is not an indication that she endorses the measure, merely a rubber stamp of approval that it meets the legal requirements necessary of all ballot proposals.

The so-called Massachusetts Death with Dignity Act would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients with less than six months to live — officially making Massachusetts the third state, following Oregon and Washington, to legalize assisted suicide.

“The Massachusetts Death with Dignity Act would create a legally sanctioned process for dying patients whose suffering cannot be adequately controlled to receive a prescription from a licensed physician to bring about a peaceful and dignified death,” Marcia Angell, former Editor-in-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and a supporter of the assisted suicide measure, told the Boston Herald. “As a physician who has studied this issue over many years, I believe the people of Massachusetts are ready to consider giving suffering patients this option.”

The state’s Catholic bishops will strongly oppose the measure throughout the process and a statement it released today expanded on that.

“This Initiative Petition is a first step in Massachusetts toward legalizing physician-assisted suicide, effectively authorizing the killing of human beings prior to their natural death,” the conference wrote, according to the newspaper. “The Roman Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts stand firm in the belief that a compassionate society should work to prevent suicide, which is always a terrible tragedy, no matter what form it may take.”

They added a 1995 statement, saying, “The Roman Catholic Bishops in Massachusetts are strongly opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide because it is contrary to the good of persons and contrary to the common good of this State. For once a society allows one individual to take the life of another based on their private standards of what constitutes a life worth living, even when there is mutual agreement, there can be no safe or sure way to contain its possible consequences.”

Kristian Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, has said that his group will also oppose the plan.

“It’s a further erosion of the sanctity of life in our commonwealth,” he added. “You talk about the slippery slope; this is going off the cliff — morally.”

And Massachusetts Citizens for Life, a statewide pro-life group, also opposes it.

“Polls show that, until they are educated, people fall hook, line and sinker for the death rhetoric. When you read their petition, you will see it is like a siren song,” said Anne Fox, MCFL’s president.

Every year the number of people who kill themselves under the Oregon first-in-the-nation law allows assisted suicide increases and the most recent report containing 2010 figures proved to be no exception.

The Oregon Public Health Division released the 2010 “Death With Dignity” report and it found 59 reported deaths from the 96 lethal prescriptions that were written with an additional six deaths from lethal prescriptions written in previous years. With the exception of 2009, the number of people dying has gone up every year as has the number of lethal prescriptions written.

Of the 65 patients who died under the law in 2010, most (70.8%) were over age 65 years of age, all were white, well‐educated and had cancer. Almost al of them died at home and were receiving hospice care at the time of their suicide. About one-third were on Medicare at the time.

Since the law was passed in 1997, 525 patients have died from ingesting the lethal cocktail of federally-controlled drugs.

Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition says the report shows people continue to die without dignity.

“The Oregon stats continue to indicate that elder abuse is likely. Those who died by assisted suicide indicated that 61 (93.8%) of the people felt a loss of autonomy, 61 (93.8%) felt a decreasing ability to participate in activities, while 51 (78.5%) of the people felt that they had lost dignity,” he explained.

In addition, just one of the patients was referred for psychiatric or psychological evaluation prior to the suicide — indicating patients may be pushed into suicide without proper mental health care beforehand.