SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

March 4, 2010

Barbara Anderson: Time to let terminally ill die on their own terms

"Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Hee Hee, Hah Hah

I once had a teacher who flunked me in history

She asked, 'Who shot Lincoln?'

I answered, 'Don't blame me.'

Hey hey, ho ho, strange things are happening."

— Comedian Red Buttons, "The Red Buttons Show," 1952-1955

Red Buttons' line — "strange things are happening" — caught on with the nation's teenagers back when I was one of them.

But I recall another, later part of Buttons' career, when he became a recognized dramatic actor. In "Ben Casey," a medical drama series starring Vince Edwards televised in the early '60s, he played a man whose wife was dying in great pain and who wanted Dr. Casey, an idealistic surgeon, to help her die. Being 22, I considered it strange that Dr. Casey couldn't help them because euthanasia was against the law.

Already a libertarian, I couldn't understand why an individual didn't have the right to die. What's this Big Government thing that says an individual can't end his own life on his own terms?

I'd thought that when I finished fighting Big Government's strange tax policies, I'd like to start an organization to launch a petition drive to place a question on the Massachusetts ballot for a law allowing "death with dignity."

Such a law has been passed in other states — Oregon, Washington state and Montana — and a bill has been filed here at the request of a man named Albert Lipkind. Though Mr. Lipkind died four months ago of cancer, the bill was heard at the Statehouse last week.

The legislation, H 1468, contains all the safeguards that reasonable people could want. In order to be prescribed the necessary drugs, an adult 18 years of age or older would have to be suffering from "an incurable and invincible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, produce death within six months." There are pages of additional safeguards: Fifteen days must pass between the oral request from the patient until his signed written request, then another 48 hours until the drugs are dispensed. Two physicians must confirm the diagnosis. Witnesses cannot be relatives who would inherit property after the patient's death. No person can apply simply because of disability or age.

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