Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Aid in Dying in Massachusetts

It's no surprise that the Massachusetts Medical Society has affirmed it's stance on opposition to aid in dying. The Dignity 2012 campaign which has put aid in dying on the ballot next year is receiving a lot of attention and I expect the MMS was under pressure to reassert their position. The Boston Globe article is interesting for one point, however: the announcement was made without MMS polling it's members. In other words, the decision was made by leadership. I suspect that, like most medical societies in the US, leaders feel that coming out in support of aid in dying is still too nuanced a position and one that continues to undermine faith in doctors if publicly stated. Yet, the double effect, a practice that allows a doctor to give a patient a lethal dose of medicine so long as the intent is to keep the patient comfortable, even if it kills them, is still upheld across the country. Between aid in dying and the double effect, one has to ask, where is the bright line? At public perception, apparently.

The National Catholic Register also weighs in this week on Dignity 2012, outlining for readers what the Catholic Church is doing in that state to combat legalization (and neglecting to count Montana as one of the states where it is legal). Most of the article's quotes from Catholic leadership echo last June's announcement by the Catholic Church of a new campaign to fight aid in dying. A clip from the article:

In Masses geared to area legal and medical professionals, Cardinal Seán O’Malley has taken the opportunity to speak out forcefully against the initiative.

“We hope that the citizens of the commonwealth will not be seduced by the language, ‘dignity, mercy, compassion,’ which are used to disguise the sheer brutality of helping someone to kill themselves,” said the archbishop of Boston at the Red Mass on Sept. 18.

Stephen Crawford, communications director for Dignity 2012, the supporting group of the initiative, thinks the “people of Massachusetts are ready for the discussion on this issue.”

Janet Benestad, chairwoman of a Boston archdiocesan steering committee on physician-assisted suicide, said that a group of about 12 people, some with connections to Harvard Medical School and the New England Journal of Medicine, were able to get an initiative petition certified by the Massachusetts attorney general on Sept. 7.

Supporters of the petition then had to gather 68,911 signatures for it to be considered by the state Legislature. Brian McNiff, a spokesman for the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, said as the Register went to press Dec. 8 that the group had filed over 80,000 signatures but that his office still had to count and verify them.

Peter McNulty of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference said that “the bishops are very much concerned with this issue,” and a steering committee has been formed to recommend a course of action. The conference is the public-policy arm of the state’s bishops and represents the four dioceses in the commonwealth.

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