NRL News


by | Oct 7, 2011

By Jennifer Popik, JD, Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley

Assisted suicide is currently legal in two states– Oregon and Washington–and may have some legal protection in the state of Montana, due to a 2010 court decision.   While doctor-prescribed death is legal in only these two Northwest states, assisted suicide advocates have announced they plan on getting a foothold in the Northeast: in Vermont and Massachusetts. Should they succeed, momentum could leave many other New England states vulnerable. 

The most serious and imminent threat is in the form of a ballot initiative in Massachusetts.  Compassion and Choices, operating under the campaign name “Dignity 2012,” must collect almost 70,000 signatures of registered voters before the petition can be presented to the legislature. Lawmakers could either adopt it as a law or let voters decide in the November 2012 general election.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, who guides Roman Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston, recently called on the Catholic legal community to oppose a ballot petition that would make physician-assisted suicide legal in Massachusetts. He told an audience of nearly 200 judges, lawyers, and other legal professionals, “Your very profession invests in all of you a great responsibility to ensure that all laws are just.’’

While there are numerous and deep legal flaws with a bill that sanctions suicide as a solution to any problem, one legal concern stands out – the absence of a witness.  This should be of concern not only to pro-lifers, but also to any citizen of a state where assisted suicide is being promoted. 

While pro-physician assisted death forces make some superficial effort to ensure the request for lethal medication is voluntary, there is NO effort to make sure the actual ingestion is voluntary. 

Because there is no disinterested witness is required to be present at the time of death, there is no protection against the patient involuntarily being given the lethal drugs.  Moreover, there is no assurance that the patient is still competent at the time of death.  

The Oregon Department of Health [1] issues sparse yearly reports.  They disclose that during 2002, some patients held on to the lethal prescriptions an astonishing 466 days before using them to commit suicide.  In the previous year reports, patients were known to keep them lethal drugs 377 days.  Since lethal prescriptions are legal only if the patient is expected to die within six months (180 days), this data demonstrates how questionable and inexact such predications can be.   

Moreover, a great deal can change in a person’s condition over a year.  Did the person’s mental state deteriorate? Did caregivers tire of caring for a sick relative? There is so much at stake here, that at a minimum, Massachusetts voters ought to be troubled that under the proposed legalization of assisting suicide  there is no way to ensure that the actual ingestion of a lethal medication  is  voluntary.

The pro-life community has always rejected  suicide as a “solution” to any problem.  But this one legal concern among many ought to alarm any citizen of a state where assisted suicide is being promoted.   For those in Massachusetts can refuse to sign any petition to put this measure on the ballot, and urge those you know to do the same.


Categories: Assisted Suicide