The Real Problem With Massachusetts’ Assisted Suicide Law Is That It Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Massachusetts is going to put an assisted suicide law on the ballot in November.

Backers of a ballot question allowing terminally ill patients to request and self-administer life-ending medications say they have gathered enough valid signatures to put a binding question before voters in November, and are now bracing themselves for a fight with the Catholic Church and several other organizations.

The Boston Archdiocese, the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Massachusetts Family Institute, Massachusetts Citizens for Life, and some advocates for the elderly and disabled, have all indicated plans to mount a vigorous campaign to defeat the proposal, contending it is fraught with the potential for error and could be used to compel older, ill adults to end their lives.

With a second and final signature deadline nearing, the Death with Dignity campaign collected more than 21,000 signatures — almost double the amount they need to place the question on the Nov. 6 ballot. Supporters say polls show overwhelming support among Massachusetts voters to allow terminally-ill adults to legally request medication from their doctors to end their lives.

If voters pass the ballot question, Massachusetts would become the fourth state to legalize doctor-assisted suicide, along with Oregon, Washington and Montana.

The proposal lays out parameters for terminal patients to receive life-ending medication. To qualify, a patient must be a Massachusetts resident who is diagnosed by two physicians with an incurable disease that will cause death within six months. Doctors must determine the person is mentally capable of making and communicating health care decisions, and are required to inform patients about other end-of-life care options, including palliative and hospice care.

…Doctor-assisted deaths make up a small percentage of deaths in Oregon, 0.2 percent annually, accounting for one in 500 deaths. In almost 15 years, there have been approximately 600 such deaths, Angell said. Only about two-thirds of the people who request and receive life-ending medication actually use it to end their lives, she said.

“They want it for insurance, for peace of mind,” Angell said.

My main problem with this bill is that it doesn’t go far enough. I believe people afflicted with an incurable disease, who’re suffering, should be able to hire someone to end their life for them.

I understand why people disagree with that position. In fact, going a little further, I think most of the arguments made against assisted suicide are correct. It does cheapen the value of life. The slippery slope danger is very real. The government could start to encourage it to save money. There is a danger that the high standards to receive the pills now could slip. Mistakes could be made. Jack Kervorkian was a creepy, weird dude.

That’s all true.

On the other hand, there are also millions of Americans dying very badly. They spend the final months of their lives in agony with broken bodies, unable to do much of anything other than suffer until they die. When life is nothing but sickness, wanting the pain to stop, and having to look at the hurt in the eyes of people you care about as they do the best they can in the futile effort to make you comfortable, allowing someone to put you out of your misery is a great kindness. After living a good life, nobody should have to spend his final months caught in a hellish suspended animation, where our medical technology is good enough to keep him alive, but not good enough to save his life or spare him his pain.

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