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Death with Dignity Ballot Initiative Proposed in Massachusetts
Posted by Peg Sandeen, MSW on August 19, 2011
It was in January or February of this year when I first heard of local activity in Massachusetts—a team was being put together to explore potential for a Death with Dignity initiative on the November, 2012, ballot. I was excited because this meant Massachusetts would join Vermont as two New England states initiating home-grown Death with Dignity efforts to bring safe, state-monitored physician-hastened dying to terminally ill adult residents.
Ballot initiatives raise the profile of specific subjects, engaging voters in public and private discussions of matters they might not otherwise consider. Death remains one of the final taboos in our country, yet it is a critically important topic for discussion among family members. Simply giving voters the opportunity to discuss Death with Dignity could positively impact the way hundreds of people live and die, sparking frank discussions between the terminally ill and their physicians about a broader spectrum of end-of-life options.
The proposed Massachusetts Death with Dignity Act is based on model legislation from Oregon and Washington. During an 18-month campaign the people of Massachusetts will hear one fact repeatedly, and I’d like to be the first to assert it here. Death with Dignity, as codified in Oregon and Washington and proposed for Massachusetts, is a safeguarded, state-monitored practice. There has been no abuse and no coercion in the 13 years of implementation in Oregon and the 2 years in Washington. None.
Data have been published by health department authorities in both Oregon and Washington. Independent researchers have analyzed data, conducted scientific experiments, and published results in peer-review journals. The conclusions are remarkably consistent. The practice works as intended. There is no slippery slope toward abuse.
Perhaps the people of Massachusetts are aware of these facts. On the day the initiative proposal was filed, a Quincy, MA, newspaper hosted an online, non-scientific poll. During the first week, over 70% of of the 647 respondents indicated they would vote for this initiative.
Certainly, one individual has studied the research. Marcia Angell, MD, former Editor-in-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, is a petitioner. In a press statement from the nascent campaign she said, "As a physician who has studied this issue over many years, I believe the people of Massachusetts are ready to consider giving suffering patients this option."
Yes, the people of Massachusetts are ready.
Defend dignity. Take action.
You are the key to ensuring well-crafted Death with Dignity laws for all Americans. With your financial and volunteer help, the Death with Dignity National Center, a 501(c)(3), non-partisan, non-profit organization, has been the leading advocate in the death with dignity movement. Member contributions helped us pass a new Death with Dignity law in Washington, defend the Oregon law, and provide education and outreach programs for the vitality of the death with dignity movement.