YES ON #2: This question is by far the most important of the three, and it’s about time that we adopted it. If the Commonwealth goes in this direction, it will join the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Columbia, and the states of Oregon and Washington. Columbia? Yes, Columbia. It’s a small and select group, but then Massachusetts has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to social issues. More importantly, we allow our pets to have death with dignity. Why not ourselves? I remember that when our cat Rumi passed away, he had the most beautiful kind of death one could imagine. On a gorgeous September day, cuddled on the little throne that my partner had built for him, he died painlessly in our arms. I remember thinking, that’s the kind of death I would like to have for myself.
The opponents of Question 2 make the argument that the measure “lacks safeguards.” All you have to do is read the text of the measure to know that this isn’t true. It’s replete with safeguards, including requirements for waiting periods, for notification of next of kin, for the use of specific written forms, for residency requirements, and of course, most importantly, for a physician certification of a diagnosis that the patient only has six months to live.
The opponents of Question 2 complain that the measure doesn’t require consultation with a psychiatrist to get “effective psychological care” for a “treatable form of depression.” There are several problems with this argument.
First, the problem when you’re terminally ill isn’t that you’re depressed, it’s that your terminally ill. No psychiatrist can change that.
Second, if you’ve seen a friend die from something like Lou Gehrig’s disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), as I have, you know that these people are in pain. They’re uncomfortable. They’re miserable.
Third, the statute does require a referral to “ a state licensed psychiatrist or psychologist” if the patient “may be suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment.” The statute doesn’t mandate that the patient attend because that would be a violation of our civil liberties.
And finally there is this: when I was an undergraduate and in introductory psychology, I remember the professor relating a story of a woman who comes to see a psychiatrist. She explains that her mother has just died, that she’s in the middle of a divorce, and that she’s been told that her job will be outsourced within the year. She tells him that she’s depressed. “Depression is an appropriate response to your life’s circumstances,” the psychiatrist explains to her. And so it is when you have a terminal disease.
The opponents of Question 2 lastly complain that physicians can occasionally be wrong about their six month prognosis. Yes they can. But I don’t think that’s going to be a big problem here. First, it will take some time before a patient with a terminal illness can end their life. The procedural safeguards have seen to that. But more importantly, what we’re talking about is the quality of someone’s life, not the quantity. If you have a terminal illness and it’s not causing you much pain or discomfort, you’re not going to go the assisted suicide route. (And people who are suicidal for other reasons generally don’t need assistance. We know that by the infinitely creative ways that prisoners manage to kill themselves under circumstances where the institutions really try to prevent it.) What we’re talking about is not people who are normally suicidal, but people who are helpless, who are suffering, who are miserable, and who have no hope of ever enjoying any reasonable quality of life.
I realize that some people will vote against this because it offends their religious beliefs. To them I say, you don’t have to go this route. You don’t ever have to take your own life. But leave the choice open to me.
All in all, I think we should be allowed to die with as much dignity as our pets. Vote “yes” on Question #2.