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Review by Peter Saunders - CMF Chief Executive
On the night of the US presidential election on 6 November the state of Massachusetts voted 51% to 49% in a referendum to reject the legalisation of assisted suicide.(1)
The question considered read 'Should a doctor be legally allowed to prescribe medication, at a terminally ill patient's request, to end that patient's life?' (2)
This was a hugely significant result given the medical influence and prominence of Massachusetts itself (the home of Boston and the New England Medical Journal) and despite the small margin, it is a huge defeat for the pro-euthanasia movement given that the strongly Democrat state has a reputation for being one of the most liberal in the country.
The measure was defeated after a strong campaign by a diverse coalition called 'No On Question 2' drawn from both sides of the political spectrum and comprised of disability rights organisations, doctors, nurses, community leaders, faith based groups and patient rights' advocates. Alex Schadenberg3 and Wesley Smith4 give helpful analyses of how the campaign was won.
The Massachusetts Medical Society issued a statement 5 saying it was opposed to Question 2 and cited insufficient safeguards, the uncertainty of predicting life-spans and the profession's historic opposition to assisted suicide. The Society also reaffirmed 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.
They were backed by a group of 15 disability rights organisations. (6) John Kelly, Executive Director of Second Thoughts and former Chair of the Advisory Board to the Boston Disability Commission, argued as follows:
'We already have seen serious cost cutting pressures. We constantly hear about the costs of caring for people in the last year of their lives. We can point to examples in Oregon and Washington, where assisted suicide is legal, of these implicit and explicit cost pressures. Ballot Question 2 legalizes a $100 lethal prescription and that sends a terrible message to people living with serious illness or disability.'
Currently only two US states, Oregon and Washington, have legalised assisted suicide, each on the basis of a referendum. This has led to an annual increase of assisted suicide in each state.
By contrast, whenever a bill has been brought before a US state parliament it has been defeated. This has happened over 120 times in the last 20 years. It is clear that assisted suicide is an issue Christian doctors are not alone in opposing.
1. Massachusetts 'death with dignity' initiative.
2. Question 2: Prescribing Medication to End Life.
6. Life News 2012; 1 October
7. Christian Medical Comment 2012; 24 September