Foes of assisted suicide map plans to stop resurgent bill

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Should physician-assisted suicide be legal in Massachusetts?

Some say the measure helps people seeking to avoid a painful death, others believe unintended consequences could easily arise when insurers are left to choose expensive, life-prolonging treatments or cheap, fatal drugs. What do you believe?




BOSTON – Opponents of a bill that would legalize doctor-prescribed suicide will host a panel discussion on Beacon Hill Thursday to map out a strategy for defeating the measure ahead of legislative hearings set to begin next month.

“Basically what they’re hoping to do is to get out in front of the issue before the hearing happens in order to educate people,” state Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton), one of the bill’s chief opponents, said in an interview Wednesday.

The meeting and discussion, at 10:30 a.m. in room 428 of the State House, will feature three physicians, including Dr. Mark Rollo of Fitchburg, who has frequently spoken out against prescribed suicide bills. Rollo was one of the most prominent voices opposing a 2012 ballot initiative that would have legalized the practice.

That measure, known as Question 2 and backed by a group named Dignity 2012, ultimately failed by fewer than 65,000 votes, with 1,516,584 voting no to 1,453,742 yes votes, for a margin of just 2.1 percent. The initiative’s defeat was viewed as “having all of the elements of a classic underdog movie,” Massachusetts Right to Life said in a subsequent newsletter, noting that a month before the vote, polls suggested the measure would pass by 68 percent to 20 percent. But the issue would not stay dead.

In January, state Rep. Louis L. Kafka (D-Stoughton) filed House Bill 1991, “an act affirming a terminally ill patient’s right to compassionate aid in dying.”

Kafka in February told the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune he will continue pushing the measure because of the plight that confronted a Stoughton constituent, Al Lipkind, who succumbed to brain cancer in 2009.

“It’s not a question of life versus death,” Kafka told the paper. “This is about giving people with terminal illnesses the choice of dying with dignity, not allowing them to pass away under painful circumstances.”

At least 38 state lawmakers have signed on as supporters of the latest bill.

Fattman said that Kafka’s filing marks the second time the Massachusetts legislator has introduced such a proposal since voters defeated it in 2012. HIs first reintroduction was made in 2013 but that measure failed to progress before the previous legislative session ended.

“The latest bill is not on a fast track anywhere but we need to be proactive on it,” Fattman said.

Joining Rollo will be Dr. Giles Whalen, head of cancer surgery at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, and Dr. William Lawton, a kidney expert who also teaches at the school.

“He became engaged in this issue two years ago,” Fattman said of Lawton. “He took the Hippocratic Oath and decided to provide education to legislators from a medical perspective, especially about the pitfalls” involved with doctor-prescribed suicide.

The oath, a binding affirmation made by physicians that dates back to ancient Greece, includes a promise to care for those in need. In its modern version, the vow includes this line: “Above all, I must not play at God.”

Lawmakers will hold a formal hearing on the latest bill Oct. 27.