Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Voting on Physician Assisted Suicide

*UPDATE 11/7/12 9:45am ET: Prop 2 was defeated 51-49%, so PAS/DWD will not be legal in the state of Massachusetts.*

Aren’t we all glad that is over!  With all the attention on the Presidential race, it was easy to lose sight of some key issues which could have a large impact for palliative care providers. It was surprising how little national attention was given to Massachusetts Prop 2 on legalizing physician-assisted suicide (PAS) in the run up to the election.  I was expecting this to even become part of the debates since the connection between health care and Massachusetts was obviously in play.  Part of my reluctance to blog on the topic in the past month may have been related to an irrational fear of ‘death panel’ language creeping up again on the national scene.

I expect Death With Dignity (DWD) ballot initiatives will continue in the future, building off the model established by medical marijuana initiatives in the past two decades.  Both PAS/DWD and medical marijuana legalization will impact how we as hospice and palliative care clinicians operate in states with a broad range of laws.  For instance, with increasing access to medical marijuana and medically hastened death, should we re-examine how we address these complex issues in fellowship training?  What about educating the new hospice medical director who does not have a depth of hospice experience yet?  How do we deal with conscience clause laws in various states?  Is there an incentive for HPM advocates to rail against PAS/DWD and choose the potentially self-serving argument of increasing funding for comprehensive hospice and palliative care services?  

Frankly I feel we as a field have not addressed these issues very well.  We have fought well to become established in modern medicine, and these topics are fraught with danger when discussed in the public arena.  Sure we may feel very confident when in a family meeting addressing a request for hastened death, but those intimate conversations do not lend themselves well to media sound bites and internet commentary.

This week I’ll explore some of these questions about hastened death and other current election results and how it affects our work.  Right now it looks as though Prop 2 will pass 51-49% with 93% precincts reporting.  The raw numbers show how close this is (as of 02:30am ET):





Proposition 2 - Massachusetts
A Yes Vote would enact the proposed law allowing a physician licensed in Massachusetts to prescribe medication, at the request of a terminally-ill patient meeting certain conditions, to end that person’s life.
Official Ballot Language
Pro - YesonDignity.com
Con - Committee Against Physician Assisted Suicide

Key Editorials
Physician-Assisted Suicide is Not Progressive - Ira Byock - (The Atlantic - 2012)
Suicide by Choice? Not So Fast. - Ben Mattlin - (NY Times 2012)
Letters to the Editor to Suicide by Choice? Not so Fast. (NY Times 2012)
Four Myths About Doctor-Assisted Suicide - Ezekiel Emanuel (NY Times 2012)
Whose Right to Die? - Ezekiel Emanuel (The Atlantic -1997)

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