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October 10, 2012

Doctors, religious leaders debate physician-assisted suicide ballot question

One doctor calls it “dangerous” and “misguided” and says it should be rejected.

Another says it’s all about the personal rights of patients, and should be embraced.

On election day Nov. 6, Massachusetts voters will decide who is correct.

Ballot question 2, entitled “Prescribing Medication to End Life,” would allow someone with a terminal illness to request medication that would end their life.

At six pages long, the law would go into effect in Jan. 1, 2013, if voters approve it. And it would make Massachusetts just the third state in the nation to have a so-called “physician-assisted suicide,” or “death with dignity” law, on the books.

But many physicians and physicians’ groups, as well as most religious organizations, say the law as written is full of holes, is unethical, and would lead to exploitation of poor people.

“They call it physician-assisted suicide, and every physicians’ society is opposed to it,” said Lawrence doctor, Joseph Gravel, president of the Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians, which is one of a dozen or so medical groups against the ballot question. “People who put this forth may be well-intentioned, but they are also misguided.”

He said the law doesn’t include adequate safeguards to ensure it’s not abused by insurance companies looking to cut costs. And it doesn’t protect poor people suffering from a terminal disease who may want to end their lives rather than be a financial burden to their families.

Proponents, however, say the ballot question would provide relief for suffering patients and their families and has plenty of safeguards in place. Moreover, they say, physicians have been helping ailing patients die for years using morphine.

“There’s a lot of alarmist stuff out there,” said Dr. Paul Spiers, PhD., a neuropsychologist in Danvers who serves on the
faculty of the Boston University School of Medicine. “This has been the law in Oregon for 15 years, and there’s been no slippery slope” of abuse of the law.

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