Comments on Massachusetts Ballot Question 2: Physician-Assisted Suicide

From Richard V. Aghababian, M.D., President of the Massachusetts Medical Society, on the apparent defeat of Question 2, “Prescribing Medication to End Life.”

“We are pleased that the majority of voters agree that a physician’s role is to heal and comfort, not to aid in death. We reaffirm our commitment to provide physicians treating terminally ill patients all the resources necessary to enable them to contribute to the comfort and dignity of the patient and the patient’s family.”

Background: The Massachusetts Medical Society was opposed to Question 2, reflecting its current policy, adopted by the MMS House of Delegates at its 2011 Interim Meeting last December, when more than 75 percent of its delegates voted to reaffirm a policy opposing physician-assisted suicide first adopted in 1996.

MMS current policy also states that the Society “supports patient dignity and the alleviation of pain and suffering at the end of life” and that the Society “will provide physicians treating terminally ill patients with the ethical, medical, social, and legal education, training, and resources to enable them to contribute to the comfort and dignity of the patient and the patient’s family.”

  1. Gilbert R. Lavoie, M.D. says:

    The truth about physician assisted suicide is that
    historically it always expands in scope as it has,
    for example, in Holland where euthanasia is now also
    part of the program of “end of life treatment.”
    Below is a quote from the New York Task Force
    on life and the Law done in 1994.
    “If euthanasia were practiced in a comparable
    percentage of cases in the United States, voluntary
    euthanasia would account for about 36,000 deaths
    each year, and euthanasia without the patient’s
    consent would occur in an additional 16,000
    deaths. The Task Force members regard this risk as
    unacceptable. They also believe that the risk of
    such abuse is neither speculative nor distant, but
    an inevitable byproduct of the transition from
    policy to practice in the diverse circumstances in
    which the practices would be employed.” Once
    one crosses the line and gives physicians a license
    to kill, more harm is done than the imagined good
    that such a law seems to offer.

  2. I would like to offer a slightly different opinion here. I absolutely agree that the role of the physician is to heal. However, my father’s brother lived most of his life in Switzerland and I want to share our end of life experience.

    My uncle fought colon cancer valiently for about 4 years. In Switzerland, where end of life choices may be directed by the patient, he set out parameters at which point he wished the end of his time to be managed. His mental state, physical state and othere parameters were all taken into consideration. The choice was entirely his.

    My cousins had been to see him in November and when we got the call that my uncle’s parameter’s had been met in early January, my cousins flew back again. They were with their father in the end when he passed peacefully. Their comments were that his dying wishes were answered, his mental and physical condition had so deteriorated they almost didn’t recognize him from 2 short months earlier and the whole event, while sad, was peaceful and completing.

    The example of how Switzerland manages things should be considered as this topic will no doubt continue to come up over and over again.

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