This Election Day, November 6, voters in Massachusetts will decide whether to adopt a Death with Dignity Act. The vote will determine whether a dying patient can obtain a medication from his or her physician, with the intent to bring about a faster, easier death, if the patient chooses. It’s a topic we’ll touch on during my talk at the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) of Western Massachusetts meeting on October 21.
Here’s how the act reads:
It is hereby declared that the public welfare requires a defined and safeguarded process by which an adult Massachusetts resident who has the capacity to make health care decisions and who has been determined by his or her attending and consulting physicians to be suffering from a terminal disease that will cause death within six months may obtain medication that the patient may self administer to end his or her life in a humane and dignified manner. It is further declared that the public welfare requires that such a process be entirely voluntary on the part of all participants, including the patient, his or her physicians, and any other health care provider or facility providing services or care to the patient.
In a nutshell, if this ballot initiative passes, Massachusetts will join Oregon and Washington as the only states where voters approved this form of physician-assisted dying. Montana also permits it, from a 2009 decision by its Supreme Court.
Euthanasia, the act of directly injecting medication to cause death (as opposed to providing medication the patient can take), is banned everywhere in the U.S. It’s also banned in Switzerland, where assisted dying is otherwise allowed. Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
There’s an excellent article about the Massachusetts Death with Dignity Act in the October 11 issue of the New York Review of Books. It was written by Marcia Angell, former executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and a supporter of legalizing physician-assisted dying for terminally ill patients whose suffering cannot be relieved in any other way.
She covers the history of the evolution of public attitudes about how we die. The stories associated with the familiar names of Karen Ann Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan, Dr. Jack Kevorkian and Dr. Timothy Quill are fleshed out with balance and great insight.
On Sunday, October 21, I’m presenting “Laughing in the Face of Death: Funny Films for Funeral Planning” as the keynote speaker for the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Western Massachusetts. The event will take place from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Clarion Hotel, 1 Atwood Drive, Northampton.
To address this timely issue, a clip from the film Checking Out will be included. The story focuses on eccentric, celebrated thespian Morris Applebaum, played by Peter Falk. On the eve of his 90th birthday, he summons his three grown children to his Manhattan apartment for a festive shindig no one will ever forget. When the party’s over, Morris plans to take his “final exit”. No, he’s not ill or unduly depressed; he just wants to go out the way he’s lived: on his own terms.
Here’s the trailer for the 2005 film. I’ll only use a short clip from one scene.
October 15, 2012 Update: The Boston Globe just ran this insightful story today titled “Assisted death plans bring tug of feelings.”
Check it out for some personal stories both pro and con regarding the Death with Dignity Act.
October 18, 2012 Update: The Worcester.com Go Local online site ran an article titled “Millions Spent in Fight Over MA Assisted-Suicide Law.”
Grassroots supporters and groups both inside and outside the Commonwealth have thrown their money and efforts into the battle over Question 2, which would allow physicians to prescribe end-of-life medication at the request of the terminally ill.