In the interest of full disclosure I should say that my position of beginning-of-life and end-of-life issues is that in most cases it's no one's business but that of the family and whatever professionals they solicit in making those decisions. "Beginning of life" means everything from contraception to viability (in the case of an unborn baby) and "end of life" means whenever an individual or their designated agent for medical decisions decides that death is or should be eminent. These limits are subject to legal and/or criminal considerations but respecting a profound diversity of social and religious opinions there must be a bright line protecting private decisions from what various faiths and society might deem normative for everyone.
Considering mankind's history of wanton killing of one another, matters of life and death should be way down the list of inflammatory subjects. But I suppose since those two realities are universal to the human condition, we are prone to personalize them more than any other experience. There cannot be one without the other. Having said all that, I can now link to a post at The Health Care Blog discussing briefly a ballot issue to be voted on tomorrow in Massachusetts, The Massachusetts Death With Dignity Act.
As described by the state secretary, “This proposed law would allow a physician licensed in Massachusetts to prescribe medication, at a terminally ill patient’s request, to end that patient’s life. To qualify, a patient would have to be an adult resident who (1) is medically determined to be mentally capable of making and communicating health care decisions; (2) has been diagnosed by attending and consulting physicians as having an incurable, irreversible disease that will, within reasonable medical judgment, cause death within six months; and (3) voluntarily expresses a wish to die and has made an informed decision.”
There are, of course, a number of other safeguards built in, such as the need to make the request twice, separated by 15 days, in the presence of witnesses. However, there could probably be stronger safeguards to protect individuals who are experiencing depression and anxiety, and might have preferable alternatives to physician-assisted death.
It’s really interesting how close the outcome was in Oregon back in 1994: 51.3% in favor, 48.7% against. Then 60% were against repeal in 1997.
Last year one of my high school classmates killed himself after being diagnosed with cancer which had by then metastasized. Prior to his death he took care of as many details as he could to help his wife after he was gone. Although they lived in Oregon I am told he opted to use a gun, outdoors in the back yard while lying on a towel, perhaps to minimize cleanup. His son told me his father was aware of the "cocktail" which is available in Oregon. He commented that it was comforting to know that the option was available. There is no way to know why he opted for a gun, but it may have been fear that a drug would prolong the dying experience.