Massachusetts Medical Society Drops Opposition To Physician-Assisted Suicide

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WALTHAM — At the same time that Beacon Hill lawmakers were swept up in the frenzy over how to handle a series of explosive sexual assault allegations lodged against the civil-law husband of Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, the Massachusetts Medical Society — the statewide association representing doctors and medical students — quietly announced it has dropped its opposition to physician-assisted suicide.

The MMS vote, held Saturday by the association’s governing body, the House of Delegates, decided by a 2-1 vote that association will now be adopting a neutral approach to the controversial practice.

“The Massachusetts Medical Society rescinded its longstanding opposition to physician-assisted suicide, or the act of a physician writing a prescription for a lethal dose of medication to be used by an adult with a terminal illness at such time as the patient sees fit,” the association announced. “Instead, the Medical Society adopted the position of neutral engagement, which allows the organization to serve as a medical and scientific resource as part of legislative efforts that will support shared decision making between terminally ill patients and their trusted physicians.”

The decision was met with praise by the outfit known as Compassion & Choices, a pro-physician-assisted suicide advocate. Marie Manis, the Massachusetts campaign manager for Compassion & Choices, claimed in a press release issued Monday that the medical society vote “definitely improves the chances” of passing the pro-physician-assisted suicide legislation that has languished on Beacon Hill.

“Now our job is to redouble our efforts to urge lawmakers to take action on behalf of their constituents who want the option of medical aid in dying,” Manis added.

Massachusetts Citizens for Life, a major opponent of such legislation, pointed out in a recent Facebook post that “many, many doctors opposed the resolution” adopted by the medical society.

“This is not the end of the fight but it does make the fight that much harder,” the organization stated.

In September, the Joint Committee on Public Health held a public hearing on a bill dubbed “An Act Relative to End of Life Options.” The hearing drew an overflow crowd, with passionate testimony delivered from both sides.

The legislation would allow for terminally ill individuals in Massachusetts to obtain lethal doses of medication following consultation with their doctors. In 2012, Massachusetts voters narrowly defeated a statewide ballot initiative that would have legalized the practice. The current bill, which is still before the committee, calls for a 15-day waiting period following the initial request for the drugs along with proof from various third-party members ensuring that the patient requesting the drugs was not coerced or influenced.

The Compassion & Choices press release issued Monday noted that more than 25 supporters of the legislation testified at the September hearing.

The committee must decide by February 7 whether to issue a favorable report on the legislation.