Contrary to Tom Keane’s Aug. 26 op-ed “Kevorkian comes to town,” Question 2 has nothing to do with Jack Kevorkian and everything to do with respect for the autonomy of dying patients. It would simply give such patients in Massachusetts the right to ask physicians for medication to bring about a peaceful death if they find that their suffering is unbearable and can’t be relieved. This is not a choice of death over life, but of the timing and manner of an inevitable death.
Oregon’s 15-year experience with a similar law, which contains the same multiple safeguards, shows that only 0.2 percent of dying patients have used it, and there have been none of the abuses imagined by Keane. The patients were relatively affluent, well-educated, and well-insured; most had widely disseminated cancer; and nearly all were receiving hospice care. About a third who requested the medication did not take it, but kept it on hand for peace of mind.
I can’t imagine why anyone would want to deny patients this merciful choice, and I’m flabbergasted that Keane would call it “selfishness.” No one should presume to tell someone else how much suffering they must endure as their life is ending.
The writer, a senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School, was the first of the original 14 petitioners to put the Massachusetts Death with Dignity Act on the ballot in November.