There is no right to physician-assisted suicide in the Massachusetts Constitution, according to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), which ruled in a case today that spanned the last six years.
Cape Cod doctor Roger Kligler, who suffers from advanced prostate cancer, and Dr. Alan Steinbach, who treats terminally ill patients, appealed a superior court decision that denied their claims that medically assisted suicide (also known as physician-assisted suicide) was outside the criminal laws for murder and manslaughter, and thus, insolated physicians and patients from risks of prosecution. The two doctors argued that the right to assisted suicide was guaranteed as a fundamental right in the Massachusetts Constitution.
Today, however, the Massachusetts SJC disagreed with the men and preserved the well-established distinction between “withdrawing or refusing life-sustaining medical treatment” and “attempting suicide.”
The Court explained in its decision that, “Although we recognize the paramount importance and profound significance of all end-of-life decisions, after careful consideration, we conclude that the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights does not reach so far as to protect physician-assisted suicide. We conclude as well that the law of manslaughter may prohibit physician-assisted suicide, and does so, without offending constitutional protections.”
Massachusetts Citizens for Life President Myrna Maloney Flynn praised the ruling. “In a monumental victory for the pro-life movement, the SJC upheld Massachusetts’ common law rule that prohibits physician-assisted suicide. This common sense decision upholds protections from premature death for the terminally ill and most vulnerable members of our society, who deserve truly compassionate care, not killing.”
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The SJC also recognized “the limits of our Constitution, and the proper role of the judiciary in a functioning democracy.”
Flynn added, “We are grateful for the SJC’s decision, which provides a potent weapon in MCFL’s ongoing battle against attempts to legalize assisted suicide in the Commonwealth.”