Citizens of this Commonwealth will make a life or death decision this Nov. 6 as they will be confronted with ballot Question 2 that could legalize physician assisted suicide in Massachusetts.
Sometimes, we Catholics struggle to offer convincing arguments to our non-religious fellow citizens about why certain moral issues are harmful for society. Fortunately, in this case, such arguments are not even necessary as proponents of the measure have drafted such a poorly worded piece of legislation that any well-informed person, irrespective of his or her religious beliefs, will have no choice but to admit that this particular legislation is pernicious and should not become law.
Let's summarize some of the ballot question's key flaws:
-- Terminally ill patients are often suffering from clinical depression, severely impeding their ability to make a thoughtful, free decision. The fact that the law does not require that a psychiatrist evaluate the patient to rule out depression is an insurmountable flaw.
-- It should be expected that any law that deals with life and death consequences have safeguards in place to ensure the patient makes an informed decision on such a grave matter. Even though the law requires the doctor who is prescribing the lethal dose of drugs to mention palliative care as an option, it does not require that a patient consult with hospice experts about their options for care and pain management in that setting.
-- The legislation requires the patient have a prognosis of six-months or fewer to live. That is just an estimate and doctors agree that it is often inaccurate. Life and death decisions should not be based on a guess.
-- Any doctor can prescribe the lethal medication called for in the ballot measure, not just the patient's primary care physician or specialist who knows the patient. There are no safeguards to prevent abuses by ideologically motivated physicians who might prescribe the drugs out of "compassion" to other patients upon request.
-- Contrary to the notion of a dignified death, a patient is prescribed 100 pills of a potent sedative that he or she will have to find a way to ingest, all at once, without any supervision or control. It's called "physician assisted suicide" but there is no doctor present at the moment of death. The only "assistance" the patient receives from the doctor is prescription to be filled at a pharmacy.
Those who have informed themselves about this legislation, even if they support of the concept of assisted suicide in general, are opposing it on the grounds of its flaws and gross deficiencies.