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Waltham mayor, councilors say they will all vote 'no' to physician-assisted suicide ballot question

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  October 24, 2012 09:45 AM

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Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy and all 15 city councilors are saying that they will vote against November’s ballot question that would allow for physician-assisted suicide, and are imploring other Massachusetts residents to do the same.

Waltham’s leaders said in a statement that they oppose the bill’s language, which allows for physician-assisted suicide without consulting a psychiatrist, notifying family members, or having a doctor present during the act itself.

“The proposed law is flawed,” McCarthy wrote in the statement, which was released by city councilor Diane LeBlanc. “It does not provide for family or medical oversight at a most vulnerable time in a person’s life.”

The bill would allow terminally ill adults with six months or less to live to seek a prescription for life-ending medication after seeing two different doctors. Participation by physicians is voluntary, and the doctors can require the patient to see a psychologist if they see fit.

However, LeBlanc said in the statement that she felt the law has limitations, and that she was troubled that the ballot question has not been debated.

“It is important that those who have examined it closely, and see the very serious flaws and lack of protections, speak out,” she wrote. “If people take a hard look at this law - even those who support assisted suicide should vote no.”

Edmund Tarallo, ward two councilor, wrote that he wished the measure required a physician to be present during the medication’s administration, while ward seven councilor Joseph Giordano said the patient should require more overseeing.

“It is just wrong that a mental health evaluation is not required and that there is no requirement to let a family member know that you plan to take a lethal dose of medication that will kill you,” Giorano wrote.

The statement lists several organizations that also oppose the legislation, including the Massachusetts Medical Society and the American Medical Association.

However, a group called the Massachusetts Death with Dignity Coalition supports the bill, citing a patient’s right to die on his or her own terms and at home.

The coalition writes on their website that the change would have 16 different safeguards, including approvals from two doctors and a 15-day waiting period in between seeing the physicians.

The coalition also says that the same law has been in place for 15 years in Oregon, and four years in the state of Washington. In each state, 60 terminally ill patients decided to utilize the law each year, and careful tracking of the law has found “not a single instance of abuse over the past 15 years.”

The coalition’s website also lists several organizations that support the measure, including the American Public Health Association and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts residents can cast their votes on the initiative on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Voting “yes” would make the bill a law, while filling in “no” would make no change to existing law.

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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