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Medically vulnerable need compassion, not death, speaker says


BOSTON -- The word compassion is taken from the Latin compati, which means "to suffer with."

Putting people "out of their misery" under the guise of helping them is not compassion, attested Wayne Cockfield. He urged those gathered at Massachusetts Citizens for Life's annual Assembly for Life, held at Faneuil Hall on Jan. 22, to oppose legislation that would legalize doctor prescribed death.

"Medical abandonment is not compassion," he said. "Dying is not dignified. What we need for devalued people is living in dignity."

The legislation, called the Death with Dignity Act, is a citizens' initiative petition that has garnered more than the required number of signatures. The state legislature has until May to choose whether or not to act on the proposal before it would appear on Massachusetts' 2012 ballot.

Proponents say the measure would give patients greater peace of mind, choice and control in their final days of life. The legislation permits individuals who are given six months or less to live to receive life-ending drugs. The law would require that two doctors verify the mental competence of patients and that there be a 15-day waiting period between the request for and writing of the prescription.

Cockfield, from South Carolina, said such legislation targets the "medically vulnerable," who include the elderly and disabled.

A Vietnam veteran, he was wounded by a land mine in 1969. After 2 years spent in hospitals and 29 surgeries, Cockfield had survived the blast that almost claimed his life. However, he is disabled and lost both legs to infection. He returned home in 1972 and witnessed Americans, angry about the war, shouting "baby killers" at his comrades.

The following year, the United States Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade.

"I heard people say we need to kill babies," he said. "Killing babies became a social good."

He said euthanasia legislation builds on the same principle -- withdrawing constitutional protections from vulnerable populations.

"Once people get used to killing, the pool of death always expands," he said.

Cockfield emphasized that doctor prescribed death is rarely a free choice and that at issue is perceived quality of life.

Studies out of Oregon, where physician assisted suicide has been legal since 1997, show that the number one reason people choose to poison themselves to death is that they do not want to be a burden for their loved ones. Statistics for one year list 26 percent of those who requested death as depressed and none were offered mental health therapy. If a healthy person made such a request, they would face suicide prevention counseling, not suicide assistance counseling, he said.

Cockfield said he understands that people jump to the conclusion that life with a disability would be unbearable. He recalled the first time he had seen a disabled person. He was 15 and thought to himself, "I would rather be dead than like him."

"God kept that memory sharp in my mind. I understand. People fear disability. I fear disability. It's not unusual to fear disability," he said.

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