Hemlock Society & Foundation of Florida

Massachusetts One Step Closer to Legalizing Physician-Assisted Suicide

ProCon.org reported March 1, 2012

Massachusetts voters may vote on Nov. 6, 2012 to become the fourth state  to legalize physician-assisted suicide, along with Washington, Oregon,  and Montana.

On Dec. 7, 2011, Dignity 2012, a coalition of citizens supporting the  Death with Dignity Act, submitted 79,626 certified signatures to the  Secretary of the Commonwealth's office, in excess of the 68,911  signatures required to place an initiative on the state ballot.

Massachusetts has an indirect initiative process, which means that all  ballot initiatives must pass through the state legislature. The Death  With Dignity Act was introduced into in the Massachusetts House of  Representatives on Jan. 17, 2012 and referred to the Joint Committee on  the Judiciary. If the Massachusetts state legislature does not pass the  initiative as written by May 1, the campaign would need to gather 11,485  certified signatures between May 1 and July 3 to be considered for the  Nov. 6 ballot. Voters who signed the petition during the first signature  gathering phase cannot sign the second petition.

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."

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-assisted suicide is "not against public policy."


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

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

Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, "Initiative Petition  Summary," www.dignity2012.org (accessed Feb. 28, 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



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