Physician-Assisted Suicide Ballot Push In Massachusetts
This November voters in Massachusetts will do more than just help
elect a president. They may get a say on whether or not terminally ill
individuals should have the ability to get a fatal prescription and control the terms of their own death.
Patient advocates are pushing a ballot initiative to legalize the
practice they call “Death with Dignity,” or more commonly known as
physician-assisted suicide. If the measure makes it on the ballot, and
if voters approve it, Massachusetts would become the third state,
joining Oregon and Washington, where voters have explicitly endorsed it.
Under the Massachusetts proposal, terminally ill, mentally competent
adults deemed to have six months or less to live would have the freedom
to obtain a fatal prescription. They could qualify for the prescription
only after going through a process designed to ensure that they are not
being coerced and that they fully understand what they’re doing. The
patients would administer the drugs themselves and any doctor who
opposed the practice could opt out of writing the prescription.
Massachusetts is a key point for this battle. Proponents of assisted
suicide think the socially progressive state could help them advance
their cause beyond the Pacific Northwest.
But Massachusetts is also a Catholic stronghold and Catholic leaders
in the state have already begun a campaign to defeat the ballot
National Gallup polls have indicated that Americans, over the past
half century, have grown more accepting of doctors helping patients end
their lives. Fifty-six percent of respondents in a May 2007 poll said
that when a person has an incurable disease and is living in severe
pain, a doctor “should be allowed by law to assist the patient to commit
suicide if the patient requests it.” But the topic remains highly
contentious. A Gallup Poll a year ago suggested that Americans were
nearly evenly split over whether assisted suicide was “morally
Ultimately the voters will need to decide if the risks of abuse and
misdiagnoses are outweighed by the potential benefits to terminally ill
patients and their families.
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