Physician-Assisted Suicide Act Approved for Massachusetts Ballot

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=”http:>The Death with Dignity Act, a proposed law that would allow physicians to prescribe medication to terminally ill patients to end their lives, was approved for the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot in Massachusetts. If voters pass the initiative, Massachusetts will become the fourth state to legalize physician-assisted suicide, joining Oregon, Washington, and Montana.

Dignity 2012, a coalition of citizens supporting the Death with Dignity Act, submitted 79,626 certified signatures on Dec. 7, 2011 to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office, but members of the Massachusetts state legislature did not pass the initiative by the May 1, 2012 deadline. Dignity 2012 then gathered more than 21,000 signatures to place the Death with Dignity Act on the Nov. 6 ballot.

According to the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, the Act would allow terminally-ill adults with six months or less to live to receive and self-administer a prescription for life-ending medication. To qualify, a patient would have to be an adult resident of Massachusetts who is “medically determined to be mentally capable of making and communicating health care decisions; has been diagnosed by attending and consult physicians as having an incurable, irreversible disease that will, within reasonable medical judgment, cause death within six months; and voluntarily expresses a wish to die and has made an informed decision.”

Doctors would be required to inform patients about other end-of-life care options, including palliative care, pain management, and hospice care. Two physicians must verify the mental competence of the terminally ill patient and the voluntary nature of the request, and three requests must be made by the patient for the prescription: two oral and one written. The Act would also allow the patient to change his or her mind at any time. No person would be civilly or criminally liable or subject to professional discipline for actions that comply with the law.
“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,” said Michael Clarke, campaign director for Dignity 2012. “These decisions are deeply intimate and personal, and belong in the hands of individuals, not the government.”

The Roman Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts came out strongly against the proposed Death with Dignity Act, saying that it “effectively authorizes the killing of human beings prior to their natural death,” and that “a compassionate society should work to prevent suicide, which is always a terrible tragedy, no matter what form it may take.”

The Boston Archdiocese, the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Massachusetts Family Institute, and the Massachusetts Citizens for Life have all indicated plans to mount a campaign to defeat the proposal, saying in a joint statement that it is “fraught with the potential for error and could be used to compel older, ill adults to end their lives.”

A Western New England University poll conducted on May 29, 2012, found that 60 percent of Massachusetts voters supported “allowing people who are dying to legally obtain medication that they could use to end their lives.”

Oregon and Washington voters approved their versions of the Death with Dignity Act in 1994 and 2008 respectively. A Montana district court ruled on Dec. 5, 2008 that state residents have the legal right to physician-assisted suicide. The Montana Supreme Court affirmed on Dec. 31, 2009 that physician-assted suicide is “not against public policy.”

Sources:

Kimberly Ashton, “Pot, Death with Dignity and Right-to-Repair Initiatives Likely to Make Fall Ballot,” hamilton-wenham.patch.com, July 2, 2012

Melissa Barber, “Dignity 2012 Turns in Double the Number of Signatures Necessary,” deathwithdignity.org, June 26, 2012

Peter J. Cataldo, “Massachusetts Death with Dignity Act: Framing the Issue,” www.thebostonpilot.com, Feb. 17, 2012  

Matt Murphy, “Three Ballot Questions Campaigns Deliver Signatures,” dailynewstranscript.com, July 5, 2012

Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, “Initiative Petition Summary,” www.dignity2012.org (accessed Feb. 28, 2012)

Colleen Quinn, “Assisted Suicide Supporters Say They Have Enough Signatures for Ballot Vote,” masslive.com, June 22, 2012

Zachary T. Sampson, “Church Braces to Fight Doctor-Aided Suicide,” articles.boston.com, Feb. 11, 2012 

Peg Sandeen, “Death with Dignity Introduced in the Massachusetts State House,” www.deathwithdignity.org, Jan. 20, 2012 

Morgan True, “Possible Ballot Questions for the November Election,” telegram.com, June 10, 2012

“Death with Dignity Ballot Question Advances with Overwhelming Voter Support; Over 86,000 Certified Signatures Submitted,” www.dignity2012.org, Dec. 7, 2011