November ballot question #2: One view point

By Steven R. Maher

“It was once said that the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” – Hubert H. Humphrey.

Assisting the elderly, the sick, the needy and the handicapped to kill themselves is not what Hubert Humphrey had in mind as a moral government.

A question on the November 2012 ballot would legalize suicide in Massachusetts, in which a physician would prescribe a drug whose sole purpose is to kill someone. It is opposed by the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, and the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Under the act, two witnesses will say the patient is capable, acting voluntarily, and not being coerced. Two doctors will certify that the person has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is expected to die within six months. After a 15 day waiting period, the patient will communicate a second time their desire to commit suicide. Then the doctor will be allowed to prescribe drugs to the patient, who must ingest this poison voluntarily without assistance. “The death certificate would list the underlying terminal illness as the cause of death,” says the act.

Deep flaws

This law has several deep flaws. In several instances, what it doesn’t say is more important than what it does say. Some highlights:

• Family members need not be consulted. Two strangers will suffice under this act to witness the patient’s request to commit suicide. If you’re the parents, spouse, sibling, or children of the patient, they can kill themselves without you being informed, and because the death certificate will list the underlying terminal disease as the cause of death, you’ll never know your loved one killed themselves – or be given a chance to stop it.

• The law does not mention medical proxies. The person you have deemed – presumably when you were of sound mind – most suitable to make your medical decisions when you are emotionally or physically incapacitated, need not be consulted under the act.

• Beneficiaries of the suicidal person’s estate are specifically allowed to be one of the two witnesses under the act. There will undoubtedly be cases of “assisted murder” where an estate beneficiary will pressure a medically weakened patient to “end their pain and suffering” – and then help themselves to the decedent’s assets. Undoubtedly, there will be cases where a witness will be motivated by greed, not love for the person whose suicide they are authorizing.

• What if the medical diagnosis is incorrect? Well, that will just be too bad for the dead person and their loved ones. The law immunizes those involved in helping a person kill themselves “for actions that comply with the law, including actions taken in good faith that substantially comply.”

The act specifically bans euthanasia, the intentional medical ending of a life by a third party. But once we start down the slippery slope of allowing a person diagnosed as terminally ill to get permission to kill themselves, euthanasia is where we’re heading as a society. This act allows the patient to request suicide.

After we’re used to that, the next act will allow family members to get doctor’s permission to medically end their relative’s life. Then the final act will be to allow the medical establishment to make the decision on their own.

This wasn’t Hubert Humphrey’s vision of a moral government.

Is it yours?

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