Disability groups oppose Massachusetts assisted suicide initiative

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A new disability advocacy group, called Second Thoughts, announced its opposition to an initiative, which is likely to appear on the 2012 Massachusetts voters ballot, that would legalize physician assisted suicide.

The initiative would allow terminally ill adults, defined as those with six months or less to live, to receive and self-administer a prescription for life-ending medication. Similar to the Death with Dignity laws that have passed in two other states, Oregon and Washington, the law would also required a 15-day waiting period, that two doctors verify that the terminally ill patient is mentally competent, and the doctors provide information on other forms of end of life care, according to the campaign organizers.

A few disability advocacy groups that have long opposed assisted suicide measures, such as Not Dead Yet and the Disability Rights Education Fund, have came out in support of Second Thoughts, arguing that precautionary measures in other states have not prevented physicians from administering life-ending medication to patients whom are not, in fact, terminally ill, but lack sufficient services to continue living a comfortable life.

“Some people may ask why disabled people are speaking out about problems with a proposal that’s supposed to be about terminal illness, but when you look at the reasons Oregon reports for giving lethal prescriptions, it’s mainly about the social and emotional issues of becoming disabled, like depending on others and feeling like a burden,” said disability activist John Kelly.

According to Second Thoughts, the top five reasons Oregon doctors report patients requesting assisted suicide are all related to quality of life issues, such as a “loss of autonomy,” a “loss of dignity,” a”loss of control of bodily functions,” “feelings of being a burden,” and that they are “less able to engage in activities.”