Catholic Free Press

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Doctor prescribed suicide a danger to all and to our society

Posted By January 26, 2012 | 1:15 pm | Lead Story #2, Local
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By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – “I’d rather be dead than live that way.”
That’s what John Wayne Cockfield said at age 15 upon seeing a severely handicapped person.
That statement is easily turned around to: “You shouldn’t be living like that,” said Mr. Cockfield, who later lost both legs and partial use of one hand in the Vietnam War.
The retired Marine sergeant said he doesn’t mind people saying they wouldn’t want to be like him; he minds them saying he doesn’t have the right to live or has less value than someone who can walk. He said he wouldn’t have chosen to be in a wheelchair, but has a good life.
“When you’re on the outside looking in” it’s different than being on the inside looking out, he said.
Mr. Cockfield spoke about “The Dangers of Doctor Prescribed Suicide – to You and to Society” Wednesday at Blessed Sacrament Parish’s Phelan Center. The Baptist from South Carolina is National Right to Life’s vice president for medical ethics.
Massachusetts residents will be asked on the November ballot whether they want doctor prescribed suicide legalized in Massachusetts, said Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens For Life, which sponsored Mr. Cockfield’s talk.
“We have to get people to vote ‘no’ rather than blanking,” and the Worcester Diocese is a key area, she said. Voters who leave this question blank when voting for the president and other politicians next November will not be counted as for or against doctor prescribed suicide, she said.
If there are more “yes” votes than “no” votes on this initiative petition, doctor prescribed suicide will become legal in Massachusetts as of Jan. 1, 2013, Mrs. Fox told The Catholic Free Press.
She said if there are more “no” votes, the situation will remain the same as it is now: to commit or assist with suicide is illegal under common law, but not under state law, that is, it’s not on the books. But there would be a time period before it could be reintroduced for passage into law.
“We definitely can do it,” she told listeners. “This is the part of the state…where the numbers are going to be the strongest;” it’s a very pro-life area.
Allison LeDoux, director of the diocesan Respect Life and Marriage and Family Offices, said more information will be coming from the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.
A listener suggested praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet between now and the election “so that the spiritual power is part of the picture.” Another called for support of Catholic radio to help get the word out. A third said public access television stations would welcome programs.
The Massachusetts Medical Society, at the Interim Meeting of its House of Delegates in early December, reaffirmed its policy opposing physician-assisted suicide, a policy that has been in effect since 1996.  The new policy also includes a clear statement that the medical society “supports patient dignity and the alleviation of pain and suffering at the end of the life” and a commitment by  it  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,” according to Richard P. Gulla,  media relations manager of the
Massachusetts Medical Society.
Mr. Cockfield said he’s heard that  many people in Massachusetts support doctor prescribed suicide, but all the disability groups oppose it.
Some say people should have the freedom to choose death.
“They only want this right for a small portion of the population,” he said. “To have worth you have to pass a value test: you have to walk, you have to see, you have to think.” Targeted are the poor, elderly, disabled and chronically ill. And the terms like chronically ill can be defined as including people like him who have no reasonable hope of recovery.
In Oregon, where doctor prescribed suicide is legal, two women received a letter which said their quality of life was not adequate to justify paying for their pain control, but offering free medicine for suicide, he said. And a study in Oregon showed many who were given suicide drugs were depressed, but were not offered mental health treatment, he said.
He told of a friend of his in South Carolina being asked by a doctor to be a witness while the doctor talked to a paralyzed crime victim. The doctor told the victim she had no future, and the perpetrator did not have money, so her family would lose their house to pay her medical bills. The doctor asked about cutting off her respirator and she agreed.
That was not a free choice, Mr. Cockfield asserted.
If doctor prescribed suicide is legalized in Massachusetts, the “liberty benefit” will be extended to people who cannot make their own decisions because of “equal protection under the law,” he said.
In war there are terrible atrocities; “the first thing you do is you dehumanize your enemy, because you’re killing them,” the retired Marine said. With doctor prescribed suicide “their enemy is Grandma – a ‘vegetable’” who can’t think clearly.
Mr. Cockfield told of Marjorie Neibert, a woman hospitalized for a stroke in Florida in the 1990s. In her living will she had said she did not want artificial nutrition and hydration, so the nurse refused to give her a glass of water. When she tried to “steal” water from another tray, she was tied down. The hospital’s ethics board decided the stroke rendered her incompetent to change her treatment decision. It took her 13 days “to thirst to death.”
“We do not have to choose this future,” Mr. Cockfield said. “We can stop this. … It took 300 years to stop slavery. Never stop struggling and fighting.”