Saturday, October 6, 2012

How Will You Vote on Question 2?

Come Election Day, Question 2 offers Massachusetts voters just two possible answers: yes or no. But the questions are countless, and how you answer may depend on asking the right ones -- and the language you use to describe what is being proposed.

The state calls it Prescribing Medication to End Life. Opponents and proponents have other names for it, and it's easy to see why. "Do you believe in Death With Dignity?" is not the same question as "Do you believe in Physician-Assisted Suicide?" And whether you consider the law as proposed to voters to allow for a dignified death or a suicide perhaps is determinant of whether you support it or oppose it.

The nonprofit Community Voices in Medical Ethics is interested in helping Massachusetts voters to think this through, with three papers documenting its study of the issue, and with a forum on October 25 featuring an extraordinary panel with clear understanding of the positive and negative aspects of the ballot measure.

The forum, free and open to the public, will be held October 25, 4 to 6 pm, in the amphitheater at Harvard's  Tosteston Medical Education Center, 260 Longwood, It will be moderated by Christine Mitchell, RN, and Robert Truog, MD, both of the HMS Division of Medical Ethics. RSVP to
The panel will feature Lachlan Forrow, MD, director of both the ethics and palliative care programs at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and chair of the Massachusetts Expert Panel on End of Life Care, whose extensive report to the governor has called in particular for integrated palliative care and support for the MOLST advance directives program; Marcia Angell, MD, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and one of the leaders and signers of the Death With Dignity Initiative that put Question 2 on the ballot; and Ellen Weinstein, assistant general counsel at Boston Medical Center.

The panel also will include Community Voices president Carol Powers, an attorney, founding co-chair of the Community Ethics Committee, and primary author of the White Paper and Executive Summary.

Community Voices, which is responsible for this blog and affiliated with the Community Ethics Committee, has yet another term for the practice that is being put to a vote: Choosing Medically Induced Death. Including "choice" was considered important, even vital, in coming to terms with this change in the traditional healing role of the physician.

For the record, Community Voices has included both proponents and opponents, before, during and after our study that took in assisted dying as practiced legally in Oregon and Washington; voluntary euthanasia as practiced in Switzerland; and the current legal/parliamentary engagement of voluntary euthanasia in Canada, especially British Columbia.

The central question is this: Should physicians in Massachusetts be given the legal authority to prescribe a lethal dose of medicine to a competent adult who is terminally ill, physically able to self-administer, and wishes to end his or her life? 

Our lengthy White Paper, abbreviated Executive Summary, and Conversation Guide are meant to help you answer this question wisely. And the October 25 forum, with its panel of experts, is not to be missed.


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