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MCC testifies at Statehouse opposing physician assisted suicide bill

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BOSTON -- A public hearing on legislation that would let doctors prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients took place on Beacon Hill Oct. 27.

James Driscoll, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, testified at the hearing in opposition to the bill.

"We, like many other faiths, organizations, doctors, nurses and individuals are called upon to comfort the sick and not participate in facilitating death," he said.

Driscoll recalled that a ballot initiative on the issue was defeated 3 years ago.

"We all know that it was a close vote but I suggest you continue to respect the wishes of the majority of voters in this state on this issue," he said.

The bill would require that the patient have a terminal illness or condition that can reasonably be expected to cause death within six months. The patient must self-administer the drugs.

The legislation would also require that before prescribing the drugs the doctor must inform the patient about the diagnosis, prognosis, risks associated with taking the medication and other treatment options, including palliative care.

The request must be made in writing and be witnessed by two people, as least one of whom isn't a relative of the patient or someone who would be entitled to any part of the patient's estate.

People would be ineligible for the life-ending drugs if they're minors, have guardians or are seeking them only because of age or disability.

Driscoll said that the six months life expectancy prognosis criterion has been proven in many instances to be flawed. He also said that the bill lacks controls.

"There are no safeguards in place to control access to those pills once the prescription is filled. They can be anywhere in the home the patient places the bottle. In theory, and hopefully not in practice, anyone with access to the home has access to those pills."

He said that there is no requirement that a doctor or any healthcare professional be present when the lethal dose is taken and the same applies to a family member, loved one, or friend.

The public hearing took place before the Legislature's Public Health Committee.

The practice is legal in five states -- California, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont. Supporters have pushed for similar measures in dozens of other statehouses.

Last year, a similar bill stalled after it was sent to a study committee, a common way of essentially ensuring no action will be taken on a bill before the end of the formal session.

AP reports contributed to this story.

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