A group of Massachusetts physicians held a press conference Wednesday to loudly voice their opposition to a bill seeking to legalize physician assisted suicide.
“With its decision to withdraw opposition to PAS, the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) is turning back the clock to a time when physicians weren’t trusted,” said Dr. Mark Rollo said in opposition to House Bill 1194 at Wednesday’s hearing. “Legalizing PAS is not about giving a patients aid in dying, it is about giving doctors the right to kill,” he added. Rollo worries that the change in policy will endanger those who are poor and disabled because doctors will encourage patients to end their lives in order to avoid expensive prolonged treatments.
Massachusetts Medical Society’s (MMS) voted in December to repeal its policy regarding assisted suicide and euthanasia — moving from its well established opposition to a “neutral engagement” on the practice. Lawmakers have been crafting and advocating for the passage of the bill since that time.
California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington also permit physician assisted suicide. Washington, D.C., implemented the Death with Dignity Act of 2016, allowing people to legally obtain a lethal dose of medication. The legislation stipulates that only a D.C. resident who is terminally ill, older than 18 and not expected to live more than six months. (RELATED: DC Now Letting Patients Choose Physician-Assisted Suicide).
As Massachusetts law now stands, individuals don’t have a constitutional right to physician assisted suicide. The Supreme Court also decided in 1997 that the government’s interest in preventing intentional killing and preserving life outweighed a patient’s interest in the liberty to choose to die.
“It is against the healing nature of mankind and particularly physicians to usurp the practice of healing in favor of what has been considered an unnatural practice for thousands of years – providing lethal drugs to patients and assisting them in suicide,” former MMS president Dr. Thomas Sullivan said at the press conference.
“The best way to prevent us from ending up like Netherlands, where they use euthanasia for ringing in the ears, or Belgium, where it is legal to euthanize children, is to draw the line at legalization of any kind of physician hastened death because it is not a question of whether the practice of physician assisted death will migrate, it is when,” palliative care physician Dr. Laura Petrillo also said at the hearing.
Assisted suicide in the Netherlands is legal for anyone who suffers from physical or mental illness and has an advanced directive or has received parental consent if younger than 16. Minors can request euthanasia as young as 12. The law states that parents must be involved in the decision-making processes of 16- and 17-year-olds, but it does not require parental consent. Those who desire assisted suicide must express an earnest conviction that they see euthanasia as their only escape and obtain a doctor’s signature.
Proponents of physician assisted regard the measure as an empathetic provision that should be available to those suffering enormously. “This is wonderful and a game changer,” Dr. Roger Kligler, a physician suffering from metastatic prostate cancer, told the Boston Globe. (RELATED: Massachusetts Medical Society Now Holds ‘Neutral’ Position On Assisted Suicide).
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