Catholic Free Press

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Doctor prescribed death bill hearing set

Posted By December 12, 2013 | 12:51 pm | Lead Story #3

After a defeat at the ballot, proponents of physician-assisted suicide are using the Massachusetts Legislature to push their cause this time.
A hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Health will be held at 10 a.m. Dec. 17 on a new version of so-called “Death with Dignity” legislation.
In November 2012 voters narrowly defeated, 51 to 49 percent, a ballot initiative petition to allow doctors to prescribe medication to end life. In January 2013 a new bill  was filed in the House of Representatives sponsored by state Rep. Louis L. Kafka of Stoughton. Local sponsors include Rep. Anne M. Gobi of the 5th Worcester District and Sen. James B. Eldridge of the Middlesex and Worcester District.
The current legislation, House Bill 1998, resembles the Question 2 ballot measure but is worse in some ways, according to Attorney Henry C. Luthin, acting president of the Pro-Life Legal Defense Fund.
At the “Death with Real Dignity” conference held at Assumption College in September, Attorney Luthin warned of the dangers of HB1998.
“An Act affirming a terminally ill patient’s right to compassionate aid in dying,” goes beyond the ballot question, affirming an “existing right of capable, terminally ill patients” to get medication from a physician to kill themselves, but prohibits state regulations from calling this “suicide” or “assisted suicide,” Atty. Luthin said.
He said this so-called right does not exist in Massachusetts law.
The conference was sponsored by The Catholic Free Press, 1230 AM Emmanuel Radio and the Witness for Life Committee, a group formed to keep physician assisted suicide out of Massachusetts.
According to the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the Public Policy Office of the Roman Catholic Church in Massachusetts, HB1998 would legalize physician assisted suicide for adults over the age of 18 who are “terminally ill,” meaning that a doctor has determined that the patient has less than six months  to live.
“The Catholic Church supports the dignity of all persons, from birth until natural death, and the bishops in the Commonwealth have spread the message that all suicide is a tragedy,” MCC said.
Conscience protections that were in place in the ballot question are weakened in the bill, Atty. Luthin explained. Those “unable or unwilling to carry out a patient’s request” for the life-ending drugs are to transfer the records, upon request, to a new health care provider, inform consumers how they will do this, and pay transfer costs.
The ballot question said the prescription could not be written sooner than 15 days after the patient’s written request, but the current bill would permit getting it the same day, he said.
The bill requires two witnesses to the written request, at least one not entitled to any of the dead person’s estate. But it does not require anyone to be present at the death, or that a record be kept of who is present, Atty. Luthin said. He said it requires falsifying the death certificate by listing the underlying disease as the cause of death.
MCC is asking people to consider testifying at the State House on Dec. 17 or submitting written testimony, or communicating their opposition to this legislation to their  legislators. The hearings will be held in Room A-1 at the State House.
“The bad news is that the Committee is seriously considering letting (HB1998) go to the floor even though not all the members favor the bill. That means we have to work twice as hard,” said Anne Fox, president of the Massachusetts Citizens Life in an email.
“These people lost the ballot question but will never go away,” she said.

– Editor’s notes
• To find out who your representative or senator in the legislature is go to www.malegislature.gov/People/Search.
• For more information on the Massachusetts Catholic Conference’s opposition to this legislation at www.macatholic.org.
• If you wish to submit written testimony, before Tuesday, email to:  jeffrey.sanchez@mahouse.gov and john.keenan@masenate.gov.
• Other resources can be found at www.masscitizensforlife.org.