Massachusetts groups rally against assisted suicide proposal

Efforts are underway to fight a Massachusetts ballot initiative that would allow doctors to assist patients in ending their lives.

“There’s nothing dignified about suicide,” said the Massachusetts Alliance Against Doctor-Prescribed Suicide, “and there’s nothing compassionate about encouraging it or presenting it as a rational alternative.” 
The alliance argued that “encouraging self-destruction” is completely unnecessary when “hospice and palliative care are common and highly developed.”

Supporters of assisted suicide have succeeded in placing a measure to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide on the 2012 ballot in Massachusetts.

The initiative would allow physicians to prescribe lethal drugs to patients with terminal conditions seeking to end their lives.

Critics of the measure argue that it fails to respect the dignity of human life and promotes the message that suffering renders life unworthy of living.

In an April 13 statement, the alliance applauded the Vermont Senate for defeating a similar bill and called on the people of Massachusetts to reject the state’s ballot initiative in November.

The alliance noted with alarm that the ballot question does not require mandatory depression screening.

More than 90 percent of terminally ill patients who attempt suicide suffer from depression, it observed, and a 2006 study found that patients who wish to die change their minds in over 98 percent of cases once they receive treatment for depression.

If the ballot initiative is successful, it could result in the tragic deaths of countless individuals with easily-treatable depression, the alliance warned.

It also cautioned that the proposed ballot question would allow any patient with a six-month diagnosis to request suicide, even though such a prognosis is often incorrect and patients may be able to live much longer. 

These concerns were echoed by the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, which testified last month against the measure, arguing that it contradicts “a fundamental guarantee of inalienable rights, the first of which is the right to life.”

“Terminally ill, dying patients do not need to make the choice that ends all choices,” the conference said. Rather than supporting the message that such patients are “better off dead,” doctors should be offering “life-affirming care for the life that is left to them.”

“Modern medicine offers many alternatives to allow any patient, no matter their level of pain or suffering, to be comforted in the last moments of their lives,” it observed.

In addition, the law would “exempt physicians from the duty to do no harm,” it warned.

The conference called on the Massachusetts legislature and the people of the state to resist attempts to change the current law, which “treats all persons as possessing lives worthy of protection against harmful intervention, regardless of their condition or proximity to death.”

It stressed that “all suicide is a tragedy and we are called to comfort the sick, not to help them end their lives.”

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