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.
Facing disability himself, Cockfield evaluates his quality of life as "better than average." He said he fears being hospitalized at some point in the future and having "mercy" imposed on him.
The MCFL assembly's master of ceremonies, Angelo Scaccia, who is dean of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, called Cockfield a "true American hero" who fights to defend God's gift of life on a daily basis.
"Life is a gift from God, sacred and blessed," he said. "There always seems to be a threat on the horizon, and 2012 is no exception."
MCFL's president, Anne Fox, said that the doctor prescribed death bill is only one battle the pro-life movement could win this year. There is an opportunity to vote in enough pro-life elected officials in the state House of Representatives to constitute a majority. The election of representatives to national office could also result in a pro-life majority.
Fox called the physician assisted suicide bill the most important pro-life front in the state this year.
"When we defeat this bill, we will set back the death forces by a decade, literally," she said.
During his remarks, Cockfield said that the Massachusetts legislation must be stopped in order to prevent momentum that would pass similar legislation in other states. If the ballot question succeeds, he said he sees a future that is predatory, where those who do not measure up are done away with.
"The day will come when everyone in here doesn't measure up in some way," he said. "I am here to beg you to take this serious. Speak to everybody. Hound people until they hate to see you coming down the street."
He added that everyone should give what they can financially to the cause.
"God is on our side, but the electric company is not necessarily on our side if we can't pay the bills," he said.