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Mass. Catholics Organize Against ‘Death With Dignity’

Roman Catholics remain some of the most vocal opponents to the “Death with Dignity” initiative in Massachusetts, to which voters statewide will answer yes or no Nov. 6. The proposed action would allow physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients.

“The largest religious force in Massachusetts, the Roman Catholic Church, has come out squarely against the referendum, as have other prominent faith voices,” The Boston Globe’s Lisa Wangness writes. “The church teaches that human life is sacred from conception to natural death, and that suicide in any form is a grave sin.”

Mass. Sec. of State

The Globe’s Chelsea Conaboy also reports that, “Catholic archdioceses from across the country contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the Committee Against Physician Assisted Suicide, which raised $900,550 from late April to September.”

According to New England’s NBC affiliate NECN, Catholics are organizing church by church against “Death with Dignity.” For example, St. Jerome Parish in Weymouth, Mass. is holding workshops encouraging parishioners to vote “no” on the initiative, also known as Question 2.

The initiative referred to as “Prescribing Medication to End Life” has a number of restrictions. “Patients would have to be determined capable of making and communicating their health care decisions, have at most six months to live and voluntarily express a wish to die on two occasions, 15 days apart,” reports the Concord Journal. A patient and his or her physician would also be required to discuss the option of palliative care.

In a blog post for Boston, Dr. Marcia Angell, a supporter of the proposal, writes: “No physician is required to participate in assisted dying; he or she may refuse for any reason whatsoever. This is a choice, not a requirement, for both patients and physicians.” Dr. Angell is the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Massachusetts Medical Society and the Massachusetts Family Institute also oppose the act. The former president of the Society, Dr. Barbara Rockett, writes in a foil post: “We as physicians must avoid the so-called slippery slope of attempting to save money by doing less for our patients rather than rendering the proper care to them. To substitute physician-assisted suicide for care represents an abandonment of the patient by the physician.”

States currently allowing assisted suicide include: Oregon, Montana and Washington.

A 2012 study by the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine analyzed Oregon’s 1994 adoption of “Death with Dignity” and its Catholic response. According to the study, “The Church used its pulpits to urge Catholics to vote against Measure 16 (the Act) and make a political contribution to the Coalition for Compassionate Care,” similar to the current Massachusetts response.

However, one of the biggest differences between Oregon and Massachusetts is the Catholic population. “[S]ince Oregon had only a small percentage of Catholics in the state, most Oregon voters saw the Catholic Church’s involvement against Measure 16 as an attempt by organized religion to impose its views on the public,” Taylor E. Purvis writes.

According to Pew Research, 43 percent of Massachusetts residents claim the Catholic tradition as their religious preference. Massachusetts has a larger percentage of Catholics than any other state.

The high percentage of Catholics is not, however, translating into statewide opposition to Question 2. A new Suffolk University poll of likely voters shows 64 percent would vote “yes” and only 27 percent would vote “no” on the initiative.

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