My first question to those who oppose the aid-in-dying question on Massachusetts’ ballot is “who’s life is it?” Or perhaps a bit more to the point: “Who’s death is it?”
To me, the questions answer themselves. Of course it’s my life, and I should be free to end it on any terms that ring true to me.
But the more I see people grapple with this issue, the more I appreciate the difference in people’s assumptions.
To some people, death is the province of physicians. These people object to Question 2 because it contradicts the Hypocratic oath. They consider the ballot question flawed because it doesn’t require the fatal prescription to be consumed in a medical setting. It doesn’t require a doctor be present. It doesn’t require mental health professionals to treat dying people’s depression and counsel them toward acceptance.
If I put myself in the position of the patient, it’s an easy call for me. I didn’t take the Hypocratic Oath. When I’m at death’s door, the precious ethics of my physician won’t matter to me in the least.
The picture of someone greeting their life’s end conscious in their living room, surrounded by family — or worse, all alone — doesn’t seem right. Dying in the ICU, surrounded by people in white jackets, after a week in a coma, is easier for them to accept.
To others, death is the province of God.
I was speaking with some friends about Question 2 the other day about when it would be acceptable to choose an accelerated death: when the pain was so great it couldn’t be ameliorated without losing consciousness; when the alternative was passing from coma to death without being present to mark the occasion; when the cost of living those last few pain-filled weeks would bankrupt your family. All, we agreed, could lead to a rational decision to end one’s life.
Suddenly I realized that, to many people, there’s nothing rational about death. That’s God’s decision, not ours. Any discussion that considers suicide an option is a step down a slippery slope that is theologically flawed from the start. “Thy will be done,” says the Lord’s Prayer. End of story.
I don’t think there’s a counter-argument to that, except to acknowledge it as a religious preference as out of place in civil laws as Biblical dietary regulations or requirements that no one work on the sabbath. Some will argue that changing the definition of death is dangerous to society, much like some warn against changing the definition of marriage. I’d say in both cases, the definitions have already been changed by people arriving at their own conclusions about weighty issues. The question before the voters is whether the law should reflect the diversity of beliefs people have come to on their own.