The proposed physician-assisted suicide ballot question is poorly written, confusing and flawed. The ballot question as written lacks safeguards, poses a safety risk, and could result in depressed patients taking their life before they get mental health counseling and treatment and before they know about hospice and palliative care approaches. The ballot language cannot be changed between now and election day on November 6th.

Vote NO on question 2.

A prognosis is always just an estimate

Under this ballot question, anyone who has been given six months to live would be eligible to obtain a life-ending prescription. But many doctors know that kind of prognosis is just an educated guess. Individuals sometimes live much longer than doctors predict. If this ballot question is passed, patients could end their lives months or even years before their time, based on an incorrect prognosis of having less than six months to live.

No psychiatric care is mandated by this ballot question

The so-called “Death with Dignity” act lacks effective safeguards. All patients requesting a life-ending prescription would not be required to meet with a psychologist or psychiatrist, professionals who are trained to detect and diagnose mental health concerns. Some patients may already be suffering from mental health issues and a terminal diagnosis could surely push them deeper into depression. Others might become depressed upon learning of their illness and fear being a burden on one’s family, and still others develop a sense of hopelessness.

But instead of referring patients to a mental health specialist, doctors working under this law would merely be required to have patients receive a second consenting opinion from another physician, also not required to be a psychiatrist. Patients faced with potential life-ending illnesses should receive not only physical care but also mental health assistance as well. Their choice should not be influenced nor their remaining time cut short due to treatable depression or hopelessness. The proposed law does nothing to address the mental health of terminal patients before ending their lives, treatment which may well renew their desire to live. This is just wrong!

There is a better way

The hospice and palliative care field has made significant advances in the past few decades. Today, patients with terminal diagnoses can often live full and largely pain-free lives. When they do become more ill, they receive compassionate care that prevents needless suffering. Expanding and improving these end-of-life care options should be our state’s priority, not physician-assisted suicide.

Question 2 is poorly written! The ballot question does require prescribing physicians to mention alternatives to assisted suicide, such as palliative or hospice care. However, the ballot question fails to ensure patients have adequate information and access to these forms of care.

Question 2 is confusing! In addition, under this proposal, physicians who prescribe life-ending drugs are not required to have any understanding or expertise of the array of end-of-life care options. Without properly explaining these alternatives, terminally ill patients and their families would be left without the information they need to make an informed decision.

Question 2 is flawed! When a patient receives a terminal diagnosis, one of the first treatments they need is help dealing with the emotions associated with the end of life. Palliative and hospice care professionals are trained to provide that level of compassion and care. We have better, more positive and constructive ways to care for patients with terminal illnesses. Physician-Assisted Suicide is not the answer.

A more thoughtful process than a complicated and confusing ballot question

The state legislature has often considered voting on physician-assisted suicide but legislators have yet to forge a consensus on the myriad of legal, ethical and moral issues involved. Now proponents of physician-assisted suicide are attempting to bypass the state legislature by presenting an oversimplified and deeply flawed ballot question. If the ballot question passes in November, there will be no other steps or requirements to be fulfilled and the flaws and unintended consequences will be part of a new law. If passed by the voters, physician-assisted suicide will be legal in Massachusetts on January 1, 2013. A ballot question is not the way to decide these complex questions and end-of-life decisions.

This is our one chance to VOTE NO. We must take a stand against suicide and fight for better, more compassionate care for patients facing a serious illness.

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