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Coalition fights ‘doctor-prescribed suicide’

Posted By December 8, 2011 | 1:28 pm | Lead Story #2
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By Margaret M. Russell

A “Death with Dignity” initiative petition being readied for inclusion on the Massachusetts November 2012 ballot has some organized opposition.
A newly formed coalition, Massachusetts Alliance Against Doctor-Prescribed Suicide, yesterday announced its intention to fight the initiative petition being circulated by a group calling itself Dignity 2012. The Alliance says that the national groups Compassion & Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society) and the Death With Dignity Center are operating together here under the alias Dignity 2012.
The Alliance is a group consisting  of medical professionals, ethicists, disability advocates and concerned citizens which got together after euthanasia and suicide advocacy groups submitted the ballot initiative petition in August. The Alliance opposes the measure and hopes to ensure that “this commonwealth stays one where doctors save lives rather than end them,” according to its website, www.nodoctorprescribedsuicide.com.
The Massachusetts attorney general’s summary of the “Death with Dignity” proposal says the law would allow a licensed physician to prescribe medication, at a terminally ill patient’s request, to end that patient’s life.
The Massachusetts Medical Society recently reaffirmed its opposition to physician-assisted suicide.
“Physician-assisted suicide is inconsistent with the physician’s role as healer and health care provider,” said Dr. Lynda Young, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, after a recent vote reaffirming the society’s opposition to the practice. Dr. Young’s comments were posted on the Society’s website.
The House of Delegates to the 23,000-member organization voted Dec. 3 to maintain its opposition to physician-assisted suicide, a policy it has had in effect since 1996, according to the website.
Dr. Young is also quoted as saying that the policy also includes “support for patient dignity and the alleviation of pain and suffering at the end of life.” The medical society promised its commitment to “provide physicians treating terminally-ill patients with the ethical, medical, social, and legal education, training, and resources to enable them to contribute to the comfort and dignity of the patient and the patient’s family.”
Massachusetts Citizens for Life President Anne Fox  is dismayed that current public opinion polls on the issue show many in favor of physician-assisted death. “The general public seems to support the concept,” she said.
She credits the medical society’s position with the fact that the doctors are more familiar with end-of-life issues and have been thinking about them longer. She holds out hope that once the public is educated about doctor-prescribed suicide support will decline.
Physician-assisted suicide and doctor-prescribed suicide describe the same process. A doctor writes a prescription for pills that a person fills at a pharmacy and then takes on their own to cause death.
On his way to the coalition press conference yesterday, Mark Carron of Southbridge said members of the disability community are opposed to the assisted-suicide measure. The former state legislator is currently the business development director for the Southern Worcester County Arc, Center of Hope Foundation in Southbridge.
“Those concerned have to start educating people,” he said about his reason for joining the coalition.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, in his Red Mass homily in September, said that the petition in support of legalizing physician-assisted suicide “is another attempt to undermine the sacredness of human life that demands an energetic response from Catholics and other citizens of good will.”
“Most people, regardless of religious affiliation know that suicide is a tragedy, one that a compassionate society should work to prevent.  They realize that allowing doctors to prescribe the means for their patients to kill themselves is a corruption of the medical profession,” he said.
“We hope that the citizens of the commonwealth will not be seduced by the language: ‘dignity,’ ‘mercy’ and ‘compassion’ which are used to disguise the sheer brutality of helping some kill themselves.  A vote for physician assisted suicide is a vote for suicide,” he said.

 

Imagine having a health plan that pays for drugs to kill yourself

By Christine M. Williams
Special to The CFP

BRIGHTON — Imagine that you have been diagnosed with advanced cancer. Your doctor suggests a treatment plan that would greatly improve your health but your insurance denies coverage in a letter. In that same letter, the insurance company informs you that your plan will pay for “physician aid in dying,” also known as doctor-prescribed death.
This actually happened to an Oregon woman three years ago.
Barbara Wagner’s state-sponsored health plan would only pay for chemotherapy that would eliminate cancer, not chemotherapy that would control her cancer and extend her life. She appealed the decision twice and was denied coverage. Instead of $4,000 a month for an anti-cancer drug, her insurance plan offered to pay $50 for drugs that would kill her.
Rita Marker, a lawyer and representative of the Patients Rights Council in Steubenville, Ohio, said that all major health insurance plans pay for physician assisted suicide where it is legal. She warned that if a doctor-prescribed death bill were to pass in Massachusetts, a lethal dose of pills would quickly become the cheapest “treatment” available.
Mrs. Marker warned, “The law is a great teacher. When something becomes legal, people start to think it is a good thing to do.”
In Massachusetts, supporters of the “Death with Dignity Act” are currently collecting signatures in the hopes of putting the legislation on the ballot in 2012. The petition’s backers maintain that euthanasia is “necessary for the welfare of the Commonwealth and its residents.”
In Oregon, supporters of physician-assisted suicide boast that more than 90 percent of those who choose to kill themselves under the law have health insurance and draw from that the conclusion that death was freely chosen. They have not provided data on how many of those who die were turned down for life-saving care.
Mrs. Marker, in a talk sponsored by Massachusetts Citizens for Life, asked a group at St. John’s Seminary last month whether they trusted profit-driven or government-run health insurance plans to do the right thing. With the pressure to control costs, it seems likely that such plans could choose the road to lower expenses. She also spoke to groups at Assumption College and St. Stanislaus Parish in West Warren.
Doctor-prescribed death affects an already vulnerable population, she said. Even those who are assertive at other times in their lives can be less sure of themselves when they are dying. The elderly may feel isolated before illness strikes, Mrs. Marker said.
Legalizing physician-assisted suicide gives power to families that are loving as well as families that are abusive. Many times, the elderly underreport abuse. In Massachusetts, reported elder abuse has risen 30 percent over the past three years, she said.
Though safeguards in these laws have been put in place, Mrs. Marker calls them “window dressings.” In Oregon, where the law came into effect in 1997, and in Washington, in 2009, patients are only eligible if they have been diagnosed with an irreversible, incurable condition that will likely result in their death in six months or less. Such a definition does not take treatment into account. She noted that diabetes is irreversible, incurable and, without insulin, a patient may not live very long.
In both states, patients must request death twice orally and once in writing and 15 days must pass before the first and last requests. They must be deemed capable to make such a decision by two doctors.
In Oregon, the only oversight of the process is that doctors are supposed to report their involvement. The first annual report in Oregon acknowledged that, “The entire account may be a cock and bull story. We assume, however, that physicians were their usual careful and accurate selves.”
Mrs. Marker urged those opposed to doctor-prescribed death to learn about the issue and understand what approaches are most likely to be effective when they speak out.
A coalition has been organized in Massachusetts to fight legalizing physician-assisted here: Massachusetts Alliance Against Doctor-Prescribed Suicide. It has created an informative website, www.nodoctorprescribedsuicide.com.