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Religious leaders respond to Question 2

Suicide proposal draws reaction

With Election Day looming, some religious leaders in Massachusetts have urged their congregations to vote against a controversial ballot question to allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to certain terminally ill patients.

“I do believe that the major streams of Jewish thought would line up in agreement to the opposition of [Question] 2,” said Rabbi David J. Meyer of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, a Reform Jewish temple.

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Meyer said that he spoke out against the measure during his Yom Kippur sermon in late September.

“Although I feel strongly in opposition to this, I feel even more strongly that we have a responsibility that we inform the community,” he said.

Meyer joined 20 other reform rabbis in releasing a statement last month in opposition to the ballot question.

Not all in the reform community, regarded as the most liberal wing of the Jewish faith, oppose the question.

 Rabbi Ronne Friedman of Temple Israel of Boston spoke in favor of the question during his Oct. 5 sermon, and he and four other reform rabbis have released a statement backing the measure.

‘A person ravaged by disease has no less dignity than Michael Phelps in the swimming pool.’

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“There are a lot of people who want to know that it would be possible,” Friedman said Sunday in a phone interview. “It’s hard to imagine that level suffering if you’re not in that condition. They want to feel that if it’s intolerable, they have the right and permission to exit on their own terms. Just the knowledge provides a sense of relief.”

The question would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication to adult patients who request it, provided they have been diagnosed with an incurable disease projected to cause death within six months, and are deemed mentally capable of making their own health care decisions.

Imam William Suhaib Webb, of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, said that while the question has not been formally addressed during services, “religiously we’re pretty much in agreement as Muslims” against it.

“We believe that every breath is a gift,” Webb said. “Every difficulty through that suffering is a means of purifying into the life thereafter.”

As a Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End drew to a close Sunday, the Rev. Kevin O’Leary urged parishioners to vote “no” on the question, and he advised the congregation to review literature the church had provided. He declined to discuss the question afterward with a Globe reporter, but some Mass attendees voiced strong opposition to Question 2.

“It’s the wrong direction to go in,” said Bob Denning, 57, of Boston. Denning said that society was “looking for a quick fix” to suffering and that physician-assisted suicide was “immoral and a crime.”

In addition to distributing literature opposing Question 2, Denning said, the church has played a DVD on the subject from Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

Beth Bamberg of Wilmington also decried the measure.

“I actually can’t believe it made it to the ballot,” Bamberg said. “The way the law is, it’s actually insulting to humans.”

The Rev. Walter Kim of Park Street Church, a Protestant church in Boston, said his church recently held a panel discussion on the question, which he opposes.

“It’s a moral as well as a political issue,” Kim said. “If we created a culture that really took care of the elderly and gave them vibrant communities, we’d be greatly alleviated.”

The wording of the question “is so problematic it doesn’t enable us to speak with moral clarity,” he said. He added that the lack of safeguards makes it such “that you don’t even have to get to all the moral issues. This ballot is problematic.”

The Rev. Kazimierz Bem, pastor of the First Church in Marlborough, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, preached a sermon against the physician-assisted suicide question on Oct. 21.

He said that educating the public was important and that he was moderator of a panel discussion held that same day at the church. Supporters and opponents sat on the panel, he said, but the choice is a clear one.

“A person ravaged by disease has no less dignity than Michael Phelps in the swimming pool,” said Bem. “It is not up to us to decide when we go.”

Globe correspondents Zachary T. Sampson and Evan Allen contributed to this report. Derek J. Anderson can be reached at derek.anderson@globe.com. Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com
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