Deciding the right of life and death


The Massachusetts Death with Dignity Act is featured in Question 2 on this November’s ballot and it concerns legalizing assisted suicide.

To qualify for assisted suicide, a patient must suffer from an incurable disease that is likely to cause death within six months. However, much of the time this prognosis is incorrect. Patients should be encouraged to explore other options that could prolong their life, and give them hope, rather than provided with an easy way out. Doctors will be required to discuss all possible treatment options, but there are no safeguards against financial, emotional, or social pressures which could distort a patient’s choice.

A report published in 2008 by revealed that a female patient in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, received a letter from her health insurance company saying that her chemotherapy drugs were not covered while “physician aid-in-dying” was. Tarceva, the chemotherapy drug she had received, cost $4,000 while life-ending drugs cost under $100. The insurance company defended itself by saying that the thousands of dollars they would spend on one patient would have to be taken away from other patients.

In 2012, an article published by the New York Times reported that the lethal drug now costs around $300, still much less than the majority of life-prolonging treatments for terminal illnesses.

This fact alone reduces the life or death debate for many patients to a financial decision. It is much cheaper for people to end their lives than to invest in treatment that could extend their life.

As far as emotional effects are concerned, patients will not be required to see a psychologist or a counselor before they submit their requests for the lethal drug. People with treatable cases of depression will be allowed to commit assisted suicide instead of encouraged to seek psychological care, all in the interests of letting people control their own life and death. Unfortunately, sometimes these interests are uninformed and a poorly written proposal on a voting ballot can have very dangerous societal repercussions.

Social pressure could come from family for many elderly patients whose heirs encourage the request of the drug; heirs can even aid their family members in signing up. Since witnesses must be present when the written request is submitted and there is no control over how the drug is administered, many are concerned about elder abuse.

There is also no plan to protect against the possibility of families “doctor shopping” for one who will allow the patient to receive the life-ending drug.

In order to receive the drug, a patient will have to make three separate requests. After the first oral request is submitted, a written request and a second oral request must be received by the doctor. The prescription is written 48 hours later and the patient will then be allowed to receive his or her lethal medication from the pharmacy.

Of all the flaws in the Massachusetts Death with Dignity Act, the fact that patients will be allowed to self-administer the drug in whatever setting and manner they wish, with no required supervision, is not only the most faulty, it is the most dangerous. They are advised not to do it in a public place and to take it in the presence of another person, but there are no safeguards or requirements for what happens after the patient receives the drug. I fully support that men and women in America should be in control of their own life or death, but I do not believe that it should be taken care of outside of a controlled environment. The pills could be ingested accidentally by the wrong person, the patient may be coerced into taking them, or the drugs could find their way into the wrong hands intentionally. Vote NO on Question 2 to keep death out of the hands of the general public.