More troubling is the fact that the state could be creating a whole new set of medical boundaries. The right to die is already embedded in Massachusetts law to the extent that it should be. All patients have the right to refuse treatment for any terminal illness. The right to palliative sedation allows patients to avoid suffering during death by medically induced unconsciousness without assisting suicide. If Question 2 passes, a precedent will be set that runs counter to our right to life.
Death with Dignity would make “terminally ill” adults with six or less months to live eligible for a lethal prescription. However, timetables set by doctors for terminally ill patients are far from exact and, often, patients are misdiagnosed. Patients may commit suicide based on false medical advice.
Finally, if Death with Dignity passes, patients will be at greater risk to predatory insurance practices. A similar law exists in Oregon and studies have shown that, as Popik points out, “Not one person has requested suicide because he or she was in pain. In fact ... the predominate motive is fear of becoming a burden.” There is no provision in the Death with Dignity act that addresses the cost of physician-assisted suicide compared to the cost of treatment. Given the option of assisted suicide, insurance companies may limit other treatments to cut cost. This means that patients, when weighing treatment options, may be influenced to commit suicide by insurance providers.
Death with Dignity deserves public consideration in Massachusetts but the initiative that will appear on the 2012 ballot is not ready to be passed. Question 2 is underdeveloped and leaves too much room for mistreatment and exploitation of the terminally ill.
Anthony Speranza is a Swampscott resident.