Massachusetts nearly joined Washington, Montana and Oregon in legalizing doctor-assisted suicide, or a form of euthanasia which allows doctors to administer lethal doses of medication to patients with terminal illnesses and with less than six months of projected life expectancy.
In a very tight race, supporters of the ballot measure conceded defeat Wednesday morning after they fell slightly behind the opponents with 94 percent of the vote counted.
The final vote comes after an onslaught of criticism from Massachusetts residents and outside onlookers.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston urged Massachusetts voters to oppose the measure calling it, “the slippery slope of assisted suicide.”
He said it would lead to increased elder abuse, lower quality of care, the devaluing of human life and an increase to suicide in general because undermined the reasons why suicide is wrong in the first place.
Victoria Reggie Kennedy, widow of Sen. Edward Kennedy, also moved to oppose the measure because of her experience of death of her husband due to a terminal illness and the happy days they had together in the final moments of his life.
She said he was given two to four months to live but didn’t die until 15 months later and instead was able to cast a key Senate vote, speak at a Democratic National Convention and attend the President’s inauguration.
“Voter passage of Question 2 would rob people of precious time with friends and family,” she said. “That seems cruel to me. And lonely, and sad.”
Supporters of the initiative called it the, “Death with Dignity Act,” saying that it would help put patients out of the misery that comes with a terminal diagnosis.
“Good palliative care and assisted suicide—those two things are not mutually exclusive any more than the medical treatment of heart failure and heart transplantation. You use one when the other fails,” said Marcia Angell, a senior lecturer at Harvard University in social medicine. “Allowing the most desperate of patients to have assisted dying to bring about a slightly faster, more peaceful death, does nothing to the other 99.8 percent of patients.”
Choosing death can be like a, “birth,” said volunteer Kate Powell. “We’re here to help them die in any way they want to.”
But now, thanks to approximately 50,000 more Massachusetts residents who opposed the measure, it will still be illegal to take a human life upon request.
Doctors and hospitals will not be forced to make judgment calls about a person’s mental capacity to decide to end their life, about how precise a terminal diagnosis needs to be in order to put someone to sleep and about justifying even participating in a legal loop-hole around a procedure that 45 other states consider to be murder.
“We are pleased that the majority of voters agree that a physician’s role is to heal and comfort, not to aid in death,” said Massachusetts Medical Society President Dr. Richard Aghababian in a statement Wednesday morning.
So this Pandora’s Box remains closed in Massachusetts, for now.