By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press
TEMPLETON – A leader in the fight against physician-assisted suicide brought the issue home to people here Sept. 20, talking about things happening locally and nationally and calling for action.
Matthew P. Valliere, executive director of the New Jersey-based Patients Rights Action Fund, spoke and showed brief videos at Holy Cross Parish, where his mother, Priscilla Valliere, is a parishioner.
He said his organization was formed in 2013 after physician-assisted suicide was narrowly defeated by voters on the November 2012 Massachusetts ballot.
A national, secular, non-partisan organization, it tries to bring together organizations that oppose physician-assisted suicide, even though they disagree on other issues. Its president, JJ Hanson, has the same kind of brain cancer and prognosis as did Brittany Maynard, who chose to end her life in 2014 with a lethal prescription, Mr. Valliere said.
Holy Cross’ Respect Life Committee chairwoman, Diane Kodys, said their pastor, Father Marcin W. Nowicki, wanted Mr. Valliere to come and she invited him.
“The dignity of the dying is to be with (them),” supporting them, Father Nowicki said. “We learn this from Jesus Christ.”
Mr. Valliere elicited gasps from listeners when he said sometimes insurance companies will not pay for treatment, but will pay for lethal doses of medicine prescribed by doctors so patients can kill themselves.
Legalizing physician-assisted suicide, which has been tried unsuccessfully in Massachusetts, would give a few people the option of killing themselves, and deny many people medical coverage, he said.
The choices for suffering patients with insufficient insurance coverage would be to suffer horribly, get pain care and leave a debt for their children, or kill themselves, he said. Many patients can feel pressured to end their lives, even by family members, he said. He said many people in the Templeton area are covered by MassHealth, no-cost or low-cost health insurance provided through the state. Physician-assisted suicide does not affect just the poor, minorities or the elderly, because everybody dies, he said.
The group Compassion and Choices, which has a $17 million budget and 15 people doing fundraising, pushes for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, purportedly so people can end their suffering, Mr. Valliere said. But pain, and fear of pain, have not been reported as top reasons patients request lethal prescriptions.
People working to prevent all suicide developed media guidelines because of copycats who commit suicide after learning someone else did, but Compassion and Choices disregards those guidelines Mr. Valliere said. He also said Gardner, which borders Templeton, has one of the highest suicide rates in the state.
Physician-assisted suicide cannot appear on the Massachusetts ballot again until 2018, but legislators can continue to introduce bills to legalize it, he said. He said it has been rejected by the people enough to discourage some legislators from supporting it.
Templeton’s senator (Anne M. Gobi) supported it, and he talked to her about reasons to oppose it, he said. If 40 people tell her they oppose it, she’ll change her vote, he predicted.
“What you do and say does make a difference,” he told listeners. He also told them to encourage local doctors to be involved. The Massachusetts Medical Association sent people to testify against a physician-assisted suicide bill, which doesn’t happen everywhere, he said.
Out of 160 attempts to legalize physician-assisted suicide in states around the nation, only four passed, so “in that sense we are winning,” Mr. Valliere said. (It is legal in Oregon, Washington, Vermont and California.) But he said it’s an uphill battle which he thinks will be decided nationally in three to five years.
“We need the stories,” he said, explaining that he thought speaker panels that the Massachusetts bishops sent throughout their dioceses in 2012 made Catholics more informed and ready to talk about the issue, and that helped defeat the ballot question here.
Mr. Valliere said talking points from his talk provide “the right message.” But “the right messenger” is also important.
“Put your best foot forward and alienate as few people as possible,” he said.
Editor’s Note: Local forum on end-of-life issues, www.witnessforlife.com, Oct. 22 at Assumption College.