For religious people, the issue raises theological questions surrounding the holiness of life, the nature of human dignity, and the process of dying.
“Ultimately, the moment of death is not for us to decide,” said Rabbi Andrew Vogel of Temple Sinai in Brookline, who signed the rabbis’ letter. “That’s the gift of the spiritual tradition to say it’s ultimately God’s choice.”
But many clergy also draw on their experiences over years spent at the bedsides of dying people and their families.
In seminary, the Rev. Tim Kutzmark, a Unitarian-Universalist minister in Reading, wrote an impassioned paper against allowing the terminally ill to hasten death by prescription. He argued that God never gives people more suffering than they can handle. Then he got ordained and watched death up close.
“I’ve really changed,” he said. “I believe that death is a highly personal experience, and it can be excruciating and drawn out for the individual who is ill and for their families. Sometimes what is best and right for the individual is to claim that moment of death for themselves, knowing they are freeing themselves from . . . needless pain and suffering.”
Joseph T. Baerlein, president of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, is handling strategy for the Committee Against Physician Assisted Suicide. Baerlein, who claims an undefeated record in running ballot campaigns, helped liquor wholesalers win a come-from-behind ballot question victory in 2006, when grocers wanted to be able to sell beer and wine. He did it by enlisting the support of law enforcement officials, who saw the issue as one of public safety.
He said the committee will focus on harnessing the opposition to Question 2 from the state’s medical community, whose professional associations are largely aligned against the measure. Opponents, he said, will emphasize what they see as flaws in the way the bill is written. For example, patients are not required to consult with a mental health practitioner to make sure they are not suffering from depression.
“With no disrespect to any religion, in the world we live in, we say, ‘How do you get to 51 percent?’ ” he said. “The fact is, this state is more secular than religious.”
Michael Levenson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Lisa Wangsness can be reached at email@example.com.