SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

November 3, 2012

Question 2: The choice to die

(Continued)

SALEM —

“That’s not what this is,” Crawford insisted. “The only role the physician plays is to write the prescription. I would argue it is a misnomer.”

Under the Massachusetts ballot question, a doctor would be allowed to prescribe medication for a patient with a terminal illness who has six months or less to live. The pills or other medication would have to be self-administered by the patient.

Proponents argue that there are safeguards built into the law to prevent abuses. The consulting doctor, for example, must inform the patient of alternatives, such as hospice care, and refer the patient to another doctor to confirm the diagnosis and prognosis.

Poorly written law?

Opponents say the law is badly flawed.

“Everybody wants death with dignity,” said Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, who delivered a Yom Kippur sermon on the subject. “It’s just a matter of whether this is the proper solution, My answer is ‘No, it is not.’”

The two principal flaws, Meyer said, are the reliance on a pronouncement by a doctor that a person has only six months to live, and the lack of a required psychological evaluation.

“Six months is a thoroughly random number, and the medical field is notoriously wrong. It’s only a statistical average,” Mayer said.

The rabbi said a psychiatric or psychological consultation, which is required only if the doctor believes a patient is mentally impaired, should be mandated for every person considering ending their life.

“The lack of a required psychiatric evaluation is a huge problem, knowing that it’s a population that suffers from depression and depression can be treated,” Meyer said.

“I also bring my own personal experience to both those concerns,” he said. “I’ve been a rabbi for 30 years and I’ve seen people come through depression and find meaning and joy and love in their last weeks and months, and I’ve seen people out-live their diagnosis by years.”

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