From The Golden State
End Of Life Decisions On Mass. Ballot
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Come November, all eyes will be on Massachusetts. Not only will Massachusetts voters be voting for their candidate of choice for the Senate seat (in what has been one of the most highly publicized Senate races), but they will also determine whether the Commonwealth will be the fourth state in the United States to legalize physician-assisted suicide.
The ‘Death With Dignity’ bill, just recently added to the ballot, will make it legal for “a physician licensed in Massachusetts to prescribe medication at a terminally ill patient’s request, to end that patient’s life.” It’s deceptively simple, yet there is more than what meets the eye. According to the bill’s proposal, the patient will be qualified to receive prescriptive medicine only if: they have less than six months to live with a terminal illness, are an adult resident of Massachusetts, are mentally competent to make heath decisions, voluntarily wish to die, and request their decision twice, each request 15 days apart.
If and only if the patient is qualified, the doctor must confirm their diagnosis, refer them to another physician for consultation, ensure the patient is mentally capable of making such a decision, give options the second time the patient requests his or her prescription, and offer them one final chance to rescind their request. Once this process has been complete, the patient “must sign a form, in the presence of two witnesses, one whom isn’t a relative, a beneficiary, or an owner, operator, or employee of a health care facility where the patient receives treatment or lives.”
Although physician-assisted suicide has been legal in Oregon since 1997, in Washington since 2008, and in Montana since 2009, many other states have yet to jump onto the bandwagon. However, here in Massachusetts, this bill has been a long time coming. Starting as early as last fall, proponents of the bill collected 86,000 certified petition signatures, which allowed them to introduce the bill before the State Legislature. In April, an additional 21,000 signatures were collected, and by August, advocators joined forces to propose the new law on the November ballot. Despite these thousands of signatures, members of the Dignity 2012 campaign have quite a workload ahead of them if they want to entirely convince the 4.2 million registered voters of Massachusetts.
The issue is already beginning to show sparks of a controversy, as people are divided in their opinions on the issue. Naturally, the Death with Dignity bill is bound to strike up a controversy, as it becomes a moral issue for most people. Those in favor of the bill argue that terminally ill patients should have the opportunity to die in the comfort of their own homes, as death is an extremely personal experience. Steve Crawford, spokesman for the Massachusetts Death with Dignity Coalition, wrote, “The act gives patients dignity, control, and peace of mind during their final days with their families and loved ones. These are very intimate personal choices that should remain in the hands of the individual not the government.” Yet, those who argue against it believe that the bill basically enables suicide to be an equal substitute for quality health care. In addition, they argue that the bill doesn’t include enough safeguards. William Francis Galvin, secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, writes on the bill’s information site that those who are against it are concerned that “the patient isn’t required to see a psychiatrist,” in addition to the fact that there is “no public safety oversight,” and that “eligibility is based on a six-month life expectancy,” when many doctors agree that patients oftentimes outlive their diagnosis by months and sometimes years.
Whatever your stance may be, take the time out of your day to register to vote. Vote for the candidate you support and the issues you care about, and be a part of the change.