It's Inevitable that MA Legislature Will Give us 'End of Life Options'

Friday, September 29, 2017

Forty-five of the 200 members (22.5%) of the Massachusetts legislature are sponsoring a bill, An Act Relative to End of Life Options, that would allow persons with terminal illnesses to get prescriptions for suicide drugs.

You will not find the words “suicide drugs” in the bill.  That’s my term. The bill calls these pharmaceuticals “aid in dying medication.”  To get them, a person would have to fill out a form that goes like this:
“I, [Insert Name], am an adult of sound mind and a resident of the State of Massachusetts.  I am suffering from [Insert Deadly Condition], which my attending physician has determined is a terminal illness or condition which can reasonably be expected to cause death within 6 months.  This diagnosis has been medically confirmed, as required by law.

“I have been fully informed of my diagnosis, prognosis, the nature of the aid in dying medication to be prescribed and potential associated risks, the expected result, and the feasible alternatives and additional treatment opportunities, including comfort care, hospice care, and pain control.
“I request that my attending physician prescribe aid in dying medication that will end my life in a peaceful manner if I choose to take it, and I authorize my attending physician to contact any pharmacist to fill the prescription.

“I understand that I have the right to rescind this request at any time.  I understand the full import of this request and I expect to die if I take the aid in dying medication to be prescribed.  I further understand that, although most deaths occur within three hours, my death may take longer and my physician has counseled me about this possibility.  I make this request voluntarily, without reservation, and without being coerced, and I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
The person seeking such medication would have to sign this form in the presence of two witnesses, who would also have to sign it.  The person would also have to be adjudged by a mental health professional fully capable of making the decision to end her life.

That so many legislators are sponsoring An Act Relative to End of Life Options does not mean the bill is an odds-on favorite for enactment during the 2017-18 legislative session.  But I would not be surprised if it does become law. 
When a referendum question to legalize physician assisted suicide appeared on the statewide Massachusetts ballot in 2012, it came within 2.3 percentage points of passing.  Physician assisted suicide -- again, my term; it is not found in the bill text -- has the feel of recreational marijuana prior to the election of November, 2016: an idea whose time has come. 

Laws like this are already on the books in California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, D.C.
The Joint Committee on Public Health conducted a hearing on An Act Relative to End of Life Options on Tuesday of this week.  Among the many witnesses who testified in favor of the bill were Framingham State Rep. Christopher Walsh, who is undergoing treatment for Stage 4 Lymphoma, and Allison Scobie-Carroll, Massachusetts President of the National Association of Social Workers.  As reported by the State House News Service:

Walsh said, “I had to come to terms with this idea when I got this diagnosis, which is: Am I afraid of dying?  I’m much more afraid of not living well.”
Scobie-Carroll said, “Those facing a prognosis of death in just a matter of months, secondary to an illness that will erode their personal agency and quality of life should be afforded the ability to decide the manner in which they wish to die.”

The case against An Act Relative to End of Life Options is fundamentally theological -- and theology has never occupied a comfortable spot in our constitutional system.
Traditional Western theology holds that life is a gift from God, that human beings are incapable of comprehending God’s ultimate nature and purposes, and that human beings must not expropriate the powers of God but rather submit to God’s will and design, or else risk eternal damnation.

I or any number of my fellow citizens may bow to tradition, but so what?  America in its founding document committed itself to the pursuit of happiness (and, by implication comfort). 
Human beings have always had the ability to end their lives by means violent (rope ) or passive (self-starvation) any time they chose.  Today, however, we possess the blessings of pharmacology and may bring about our deaths quickly and nearly painlessly.  The desperation and fierce will needed to self-inflict fatal damage are no longer required.  Thus, it is only a matter of time before An Act Relative to End of Life Options or something like it is enshrined in Massachusetts law and more people start taking their own lives.


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