Those of us who have sat at the bedside of a loved one who was wracked in pain and wasting away in the last stages of illness can understand the support for end-of-life measures like Question 2 on the Nov. 6 ballot, the so-called “Death With Dignity” measure. When someone is in such agony, is suffering so badly, how can we not respect their right to end their life if they so choose?
While certainly arguable, Question 2 is not the answer. The law would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to terminally ill adult patients given six months or less to live. On the surface, it’s a reasonable approach to the issue of patient’s rights and physician-assisted suicide. Dig a little deeper, however, and serious flaws appear.
The most disturbing loophole is the lack of a requirement for a psychological screening. While a patient must be deemed competent to make the decision to end their lives, there is no real examination to determine if the patient is suffering from a treatable condition such as depression, a leading risk factor for suicide.
Once a doctor prescribes the drug, there are no safeguards in place to monitor how it is used by the patient. No doctor is required to be on hand to witness when the lethal dose is consumed, and there are no real measures in place to make sure a patient is not being coerced by a family member.
Even physicians will tell you end-of-life estimates are often wrong. Patients told they have six months to live have often exceeded that artificial end date, sometimes by years.
The measure is opposed by the Massachusetts Medical Society, which represents more than 23,000 physicians statewide. “Physicians of our society have clearly declared that physician-assisted suicide is inconsistent with the physician’s role as healer and health care provider,” said the society’s president, Dr. Lynda Young.
With the graying of the population and advances in end-of-life care for all ages, Massachusetts needs to have a wide-ranging, intelligent and respectful debate about assisted suicide. Our legislators need to find the political courage to confront a raw, emotional issue and craft a law that recognizes our right to make our own decisions about our quality of life while offering safeguards against misuse or abuse. Question 2 is not that law, and we urge a No vote.