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Boston and Beyond

October 10, 2012

Doctors, religious leaders debate physician-assisted suicide ballot question


He said one reason many oppose the law is because it “intrudes on the sacred relationship between doctor and patient.” He went on to note that “Jewish law prohibits you from killing someone, so assisted suicide is contrary to Jewish law."

However, he added, “I don’t think of it that way. I think of it as a physician having the prerogative to increase pain-killing drugs.”

He noted that in many cases, particularly with cancer patients suffering from a lot of pain, physicians will increase morphine levels for a patient, knowing that the patient will die more quickly.

“Isn’t that the same thing?” he asked. “You’re not killing patients, you’re bringing them relief.”

Dr. Gravel, who works at the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center in Lawrence, agreed with Goldstein that the ballot question intrudes on the relationship between doctor and patient, but disagreed that giving morphine is the same as writing a prescription for a drug that is designed to bring death to a person.

“If death is a side-effect of pain medication, that’s not what we’re talking about,” he said. “That’s adequate and appropriate medical practice.”

He said palliative care, or taking care of people at the end of their life, is “way too nuanced and complex a topic for a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer on the ballot.” He said that when people go to vote on it, most of them won’t even have read the entire law.

“It opens up issues of trust about what a physician’s responsibility is to the patient,” he said. “Physicians are increasingly employed by organizations that may be financially stressed, so even if the physician is looking at the best interests of the patient, there will be some patients who will be concerned, and ask, is their physician trying to save money by being a conduit to this?

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