It seems infinitely preferable to treat the pain and suffering caused by terminal illnesses with compassion and palliative care. The easy solution of the poison pill, however attractive to insurance companies and healthcare institutions looking to cut costs and free up beds, merely undercuts the need of providing comfort care and adequate pain relief. In the words of the Committee Against Physician Assisted Suicide, "Massachusetts should improve access to quality health care for terminally ill patients, not access to suicide."
The current law allows adequate pain relief for ill individuals, even if an unintended side effect is to depress respiration and heartbeat and thus inadvertently hasten death. But what it doesn't permit, and rightly so, is to deliberately intend to bring about a patient's death in order to eliminate pain and suffering.
I'm against the death penalty in general, even for those found guilty of serious crimes beyond a reasonable doubt, so why should I be in favor of it being facilitated by private doctors on innocent, if suffering, individuals, even if they request it in a distraught state? Indeed, the refusal to do so was part of the original Hippocratic Oath that expressed the ethical duties of physicians to heal and care rather than poison and kill.
What about the poor, the elderly, and the psychologically frail? Won't they be subject to pressure to choose death rather than continued treatment? Once this becomes legal, of course, psychological pressure can be disguised as a way to get people to exercise their legal choice in the matter. Judge the matter for yourself.
Dwight G. Duncan is professor at UMass School of Law Dartmouth. He holds degrees in both civil and canon law.
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