Ballot Questions 2 and 3 on Tues day's ballot both deal with complex issues surrounding how pain and suffering should be addressed. Question 2, however, proposes a good law in response to these issues while Question 3 falls short.
If passed, Question 2 would allow a physician licensed in Massachusetts to prescribe medication, at a terminally ill patient's request, to end that patient's life. Medicine today is capable of extending lives but not necessarily of relieving the anguish of sick people who are living in pain or no longer able to fully function. Medical bills skyrocket and patients and their families can be financially drained, as well as mentally and physically.
The so-called "Death With Dignity" law contains many safeguards and is based on lessons learned from Oregon, which has had a similar law in place for 14 years and where the law is popular according to polls. Under the proposed Massachusetts law, doctors would be required to inform patients about options like palliative and hospice care and two physicians must verify the mental competence of the patient. There are several waiting periods after the first request for medication is made to assure that the patient has time to fully consider his or her decision.
Opponents argue that families may pressure sick relatives to end their lives so they can benefit financially. They assert that insurance companies may balk at paying for coverage and doctors and pharmacies will refuse to fill out prescriptions for the required drugs. These concerns are not made lightly, but they have not emerged in Oregon or neighboring Washington. More than 81 percent of the patients in Oregon who took this route were in the late stages of cancer and more than 90 percent died at home or in hospice care. The law is not being abused and the Massachusetts proposal is in many ways stronger.
Medicine can do wonders, but it can't always ease the misery of desperately ill people who may linger for months or years before dying, and the medical community opened the door to Question 2 by not adequately addressing end of life issues. On Tuesday, people have an opportunity to demand their right to a death with dignity, to choose their own path. The Eagle endorses a Yes vote on Question 2.