By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – A new bill to legalize physician assisted suicide in Massachusetts is worse than other such bills, and people are needed to oppose it at a hearing later this month, a local Catholic said.
Sandra Kucharski, a retired nurse practitioner from of Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish, joined doctors in detailing reasons to oppose physician assisted suicide, and H1991 in particular, in a presentation at the Worcester Public Library Sept. 15.
The doctors were Paul Carpentier, a family physician and hospitalist at area hospitals, and William J. Lawton, an adjunct professor at UMass Medical School. Dr. Lawton, formerly an internal medicine physician in Iowa, said he has dealt with end of life issues for 20 years.
Their presentation was one of 14 being organized around the state by Massachusetts Citizens For Life and the Massachusetts Alliance Against Physician Assisted Suicide, said Miss Kucharski, a member of MCFL’s board of directors.
She said that, as a nurse, she looked at H1991 and found it bad. Then she learned of the assessment of Rita L. Marker, a lawyer and executive director of the Patients Rights Council, who has studied such bills in different states.
“She said it is the worst piece of legislation she has seen,” Miss Kucharski said.
A hearing about it is to be held before the Joint Committee on Public Health Oct. 27 in the Gardner Auditorium at the Boston statehouse, Miss Kucharski said. “Crowds” are needed to go, wear buttons opposing the bill and give verbal or written testimony against it, she said. She said she developed guidelines for written
testimony, which can be obtained by e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The hope is that it will not come out of committee,” she said of the bill. But the issue won’t go away, since “we live in a culture of death.”
She said Compassion and Choices, which is pushing for the bill’s passage, has much money, so she would like opponents to financially support organizations fighting the bill.
Safeguards usually included in physician assisted suicide bills are not included in H1991, Dr. Lawton said. Absent are requirements for a waiting period and multiple requests. H1991 allows patients to get a prescription for a lethal dose of medication the same day as the diagnosis and the patient need request it only once, Miss Kucharski said.
No psychological evaluation of such patients is required, their families do not need to be notified of the request, and one of the two required witnesses to can be the patient’s heir, the speakers said.
Dr. Lawton said almost everyone who desires death is suffering from treatable depression, but in 2014 only 3 percent of patients in Oregon who requested physician assisted suicide received referrals for addressing depression.
Miss Kucharski said H1991 requires healthcare providers who are unwilling to participate in physician assisted suicide to refer patients to willing providers. The unwilling providers must bear the cost of transferring patients to willing providers.
H1991 requires doctors to discuss feasible alternatives with patients, but that doesn’t mean insurance will pay for alternatives, she said. It calls for penalizing people who use coercion or undue influence to get patients to request a lethal dose, but that has a very narrow legal meaning, she said.
“When people are sick, they’re very vulnerable,” she said.
Dr. Lawton said physician assisted suicide has brought on new fear, secrecy and fixation on death. Patients wonder whether their doctor is “one of the death doctors.”
Patients’ health care proxies can request physician assisted suicide for them if they can’t speak for themselves, Miss Kucharski said. She urged listeners to write on their proxy forms the stipulation that their proxy may not choose physician assisted suicide for them.
She said those defending patients’ lives will find themselves opposing healthcare professionals who do not value life.
Dr. Carpentier said physician assisted suicide would give doctors and legislators too much power.
Killing takes no great skill, he said, but it is an accomplishment to find ways to control pain and keep the patient able to talk. Having the option of physician assisted suicide could lead doctors to become lazy about finding such ways to improve patient care.
He said insurance companies seek cost reduction at the expense of patients’ choices, policies create profit, and legislators can control insurance policies, but won’t unless voters speak up.
On Oct. 17 Bishop McManus and Jesuit Father Myles Sheehan will in speak at a forum about physician assisted suicide sponsored by the Witness for Life Committee. The forum will be held from 9 a.m. until noon, at Assumption College, Hagan Campus Center. Bishop McManus’ talk is “Faith and Reason in Service to the Sick and Dying” and Father Sheehan, a medical doctor, will talk about “Facing the End of Life: Recovering Our Catholic Tradition.” To register go to www.witnessforlife.com.