With the exciting announcement that Death with Dignity is now officially certified for the November Massachusetts ballot, there’s been a flurry of excitement about the measure in the news. Something refreshing I’ve noticed in these reports is the reliance on facts about these important laws which have been in effect in Oregon and Washington for years. All too often, people get distracted by misinformation and scare tactics put forward by opponents of additional end-of-life options.
A consistent theme throughout these articles about the proposed law is to outline what would and would not be allowed under the Massachusetts Death with Dignity Act. An example from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Bioethics Blog:
Two doctors—the patient’s own physician and an additional consulting physician—must confirm that the patient is expected to die within six months. The patient must file two requests, spaced 15 days apart, in the presence of two witnesses, one of whom cannot be a relation. The patient must wait an additional 48 hours to fill the prescription. Violation of the law, including coercion and forgery, would result in the physician’s imprisonment. Under the law, active euthanasia is illegal; the drugs must be self-administered by the patient. Physicians who are opposed to the practice would be in no way obligated to write a lethal prescription for a patient.
Some articles dug into the Oregon and Washington state-issued reports for statistics about the effectiveness of the safeguards stipulated in these Death with Dignity Acts. As MetroWest Daily News found, by looking at the state reports it’s undeniable “prescriptions often don’t get used but still provide solace.”
As Jim Carberry explained in his interview with MetroWest Daily News, “The real crux of the situation is giving people the right to control” their end-of-life care.
And as Dignity 2012 spokesperson Steve Crawford explained for the American Medical Association blog, “this statute has worked as intended in both Oregon and Washington. The scare tactics the opposition uses simply haven’t come to life.”
Another commonality found among the articles was how the Massachusetts initiative got to the ballot:
“The “Death with Dignity” campaign started with signatures from the former head of the New England Journal of Medicine, several other Harvard Medical School doctors, and respected lawyers and academics.” (MetroWest Daily News)
“Last year, volunteers from across the state began a petition drive to collect the 68,911 signatures needed to introduce the act for consideration by the state legislature; by the time they were done, they’d gotten more than 86,000 voters to sign on to show their support. Lawmakers had until the beginning of May to address the issue, but they declined to do so. In response, volunteers fanned out for a second wave of signature gathering. An additional 21,000 people from the state’s 14 counties signed on to support the Act. That’s nearly double the number needed to bypass the statehouse and bring the issue directly to voters via ballot measure.” (the Atlantic)
…and how strongly Bay Staters support this initiative and why:
“Sixty percent of Massachusetts voters support “allowing people who are dying to legally obtain medication that they could use to end their lives,” according to a Western New England University Polling Institute survey of 504 voters conducted at the end of May. Twenty-nine percent said they opposed the idea, and 11% declined to answer the question.” (American Medical Association blog)
“Palliative and hospice care are available to help patients find peace and comfort in their final days. But there are some people who want another option, which is the right to end suffering by taking their own life at a time and place of their choosing.” (the Atlantic)
All the articles agree the Massachusetts initiative will lead to an open and lively debate about end-of-life options throughout the US. “But this November, it’s up to the people of Massachusetts to decide: near the end of life, should we have the ability to choose exactly when the time comes?” (Albert Einstein College of Medicine Bioethics Blog)
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