For centuries in Western civilization, the principles of the Hippocratic Oath have been held as the standard for ideal conduct by physicians. One of the oldest binding documents in history, the oath says doctors should treat the sick to the best of their ability and also "will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will make a suggestion to this effect." Yet now after centuries as the standard for care, the values inherent in this oath -- and the lives of countless sick and elderly -- are threatened by Question 2 on the November ballot.
If Question 2 is approved by voters, it will be legal for a doctor to give a patient expected to live less than 6 months a lethal dose of drugs which will kill them if ingested. A Suffolk University poll released in mid-September showed that 64 percent of Massachusetts voters support the measure. In order to defeat this ballot initiative, every person that opposes it should start sharing their reasons with their friends, neighbors and family members of all faiths.
As I researched the ballot question so I could explain to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike why they should vote No on Question 2, I found many extremely compelling arguments against the measure. Acknowledging and debunking the proponents' main selling point and then reducing all of the arguments against the measure to 3 key points make it straightforward to communicate why people should vote No on Question 2.
The myth of physician assisted suicide
On the surface, the ballot measure can sound appealing, as it is positioned as a compassionate way to help end suffering for those near the end of life. Described by proponents as being about "death with dignity," in reality, suicide is never "dignified," and the measure is flawed to its core. In actuality, the measure involves helping take the lives of the disabled and elderly. No one disputes the need to alleviate suffering for people who are terminally ill through palliative care, and people already have the freedom to refuse end-of-life treatment. But the right approach is to treat the persons who are suffering, not to help them kill themselves.
Three key reasons to oppose physician assisted suicide
If you remember nothing else from this column, beyond the fundamental moral problem of the taking of human life, remember the measure's key flaws are the following: (1) Arbitrary guess about life expectancy; (2) No requirement to diagnose or treat depression which underlies most terminal diagnoses; (3) Lack of effective safeguards for the protection of the patient.
First, the proposed law relies on only a guess about life expectancy. Even the most accurate medical prognosis is just a guess, and doctors agree these estimates are often wrong. Individuals outlive their prognoses by months, years or decades. Doctors say that the six-month standard is arbitrary. Question 2 will lead people to give up on treatment and, for some, to lose good years of their lives.
Second, there is no requirement for assessing whether the patient is depressed and needs psychological help, rather than death. After receiving a terminal diagnosis, people often experience severe but treatable depression, and may consider suicide. However, after they get proper care for their depression, few ever express a desire for suicide. But this measure has no requirement that someone requesting suicide pills even be referred for mental health screening, let alone counseling.
Third, the proposed measure lacks important safeguards to protect against elder abuse and wrongly taking lives of the vulnerable. (1) No provision in this ballot language requires that next of kin, or even a spouse, be notified of the planned suicide. (2) No requirement exists for doctors who prescribe assisted suicide pills to have any understanding or expertise in end-of-life care options. (3) The ballot question doesn't require that patients be referred for palliative or hospice care consultations so they can make the best decision. (4) No witnesses are required when the drugs are taken.
Question 2 is not about "death with dignity"-- it is about assisting those with terminal diagnoses to prematurely take their lives based on an arbitrary guess about their life expectancy, with no requirement for ensuring patients are not depressed and getting them help, and with inadequate safeguards.
Today, patients with terminal diagnoses often live rewarding and largely pain-free lives by drawing on recent advances in the hospice and palliative care field. Expanding and improving these end-of-life care options should be our state's priority, not assisted suicide. We should comfort and care for the sick, not help them take their lives.
Vote No on Question 2 and choose a society that affirms life with dignity instead of death by assisted suicide.
William Hobbib is a Boston-area marketing executive, and a graduate of MIT.