Massachusetts Court Decision On Assisted Suicide Respects Liberty and Life

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We congratulate the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for resisting the temptation to invent a previously unknown constitutional right to kill yourself with help from a doctor.

As the court notes in its opinion in Kligler vs. Healey this week, physician-assisted suicide belongs to the political process – to state legislators and to the voters.

Both have already spoken. In 2012, the voters rejected assisted suicide in a statewide referendum. It was somewhat close – 51 to 49 percent – but majority rules in our system. The difference of 67,891 votes means something.

The state legislature has repeatedly refused to approve a bill allowing assisted suicide – in 1995, 1997, 2003, 2009, 2011, 2017, 2019, 2020, and 2021. Twelve bills have come and gone during those nine years.

Another one is coming in the new legislative session that begins in January 2023. The legislature should once again reject it.

End of life is a difficult topic, as anyone who has ever watched a loved one die knows. We don’t take lightly the physical and emotional pain that terminally ill patients go through. For those who don’t believe in the redemptive power of suffering – the ability to draw closer to God and to draw other people closer to God by offering our suffering to God, who also suffered and died for us – then that pain must weigh heavily indeed.

But opposing assisted suicide is not merely a religious concern. Ending our existence on earth before it is meant to end is not the way to go.

Life is precious. We must never treat it any other way. If we do, we will cheapen its value in the eyes of its beholders. And we will all be worse off because of it.

For those determined to do themselves in, there is no practical way to stop them at every turn. But we should never encourage them.

Legalizing physician-assisted suicide does two bad things:


1.  It puts pressure on people whose lives are marginal to end them.

Consider the troubling example of Stephanie Packer, a mother in her 30s who suffers from a rare disease likely to kill her. In June 2019, she told a legislative committee on Beacon Hill that her health insurance company in California at one point refused to pay for her expensive treatment, but was willing to provide lethal drugs to end her life for $1.20.

If death is cheaper and quicker and more efficient … how will we ever prevent people from feeling pressure to choose it? And that’s pressure they should never feel. No one should ever be made to feel worthless.


2.  It puts a stamp of approval from our society on suicide.

Self-killing is sad and wrong. We shouldn’t judge people who feel like doing it or who actually do it. But we also must not condone it or enable it. It should always feel taboo, because we should always hope that no one carries it out.


Yet these are matters for a few weeks from now. While we await a new legislative session in Massachusetts with the usual amount of skepticism and foreboding, we should give credit where credit is due.

In our system, we need two things to come together to create good public policies and avoid bad public policies. First, the courts must allow the democratic process to proceed. Second, the people and their elected representatives must make good decisions.

But the people and their elected representatives can’t make good decisions unless courts allow them to make decisions. Therein lies the beauty of this court decision.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s opinion in Kligler vs. Healey isn’t perfect. We plan to comment on some of its less edifying aspects later this week. But at its best, the opinion makes a practical and powerful case for judicial restraint.

“We respect the immense magnitude of all end-of-life decisions and acknowledge the overwhelming importance of the desire to conclude one’s life in a way that is painless, peaceful, and consistent with one’s values. Our decision today does not diminish the critical nature of these interests, but rather recognizes the limits of our Constitution, and the proper role of the judiciary in a functioning democracy,” the court said. “The desirability and practicality of physician-assisted suicide raises not only weighty philosophical questions about the nature of life and death, but also difficult technical questions about the regulation of the medical field. These questions are best left to the democratic process, where their resolution can be informed by robust public debate and thoughtful research by experts in the field.”

In short:  Ordered liberty.

We could use more of that around here.


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